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  • The San Juan Daily Star

Morocco’s unlikely strike stuns a sluggish Belgium

Zakaria Aboukhlal’s chip shot in stoppage time sealed Morocco’s victory over Belgium on Sunday.

By Kevin Draper

Abdelhamid Sabiri’s inspired free kick from a narrow angle, when most other players would have opted for a cross instead of a shot, gave Morocco the surprise lead, and Zakaria Aboukhlal’s chip from a cutback pass sealed the 2-0 victory over Belgium in stoppage time Sunday.

The vicious English tabloids will have a field day with Belgium’s performance and with their thesaurus. Insipid. Turgid. Uninspired. Ponderous. Sluggish. It should be impossible for a side featuring Kevin de Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Axel Witsel — even the well-aged version of these players — to look so toothless in attack, even as they generated plenty of wasted chances.

But Morocco understood the game plan and executed it well. It defended deeply and looked for Hakim Ziyech and Achraf Hakimi on the break. It took advantage of its set piece opportunities, momentarily taking the lead in first-half stoppage time through a Ziyech free kick before a Moroccan player was ruled offside.

Belgium played as if the match were a quaint Sunday league game while the Atlas Lions of Morocco showed an energy and directness that Belgium could not cope with.

The victory was Morocco’s first at the World Cup since 1998, and it will need just a draw in its final game to advance to the knockout phase.

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