It was a day of big upsets at the World Cup as Belgium and Japan both succumbed to shock defeats against Morocco and Costa Rica, respectively.
Morocco won its first World Cup match since 1998 – and its third ever – securing a sensational 2-0 victory over heavyweight Belgium. That ensured that it can still qualify for the knockout stage for the second time in its history.
The Atlas Lions were roared on by raucous support inside the stadium as they overcame a disallowed goal on the stroke of halftime to score two glorious strikes in the second half.
First, Abdelhamid Sabiri curled in a perfectly-weighted free kick from the left-hand wing, bamboozling Thibaut Courtois. Then Zakaria Aboukhlal sealed his side’s famous win.
Costa Rica bounces back
Earlier in the day, Costa Rica shocked Japan with a 1-0 win, thanks to an 81st minute goal from Keysher Fuller. That kept its hopes of qualifying for the World Cup knockout stages alive with a crucial three points.
Japan, fresh from a surprise victory over Germany that has given them a real chance of reaching the knockout stages, could not find a foothold in the game. That was despite Costa Rica still licking its wounds from a chastening 7-0 defeat against Spain.
It was a cagey, underwhelming opening first 45 minutes, marked by untidy passing from both sides. Neither could muster a single shot on target.
Then, against the run of play, Costa Rica capitalized on a mistake on the edge of the box. Fuller rifled the ball into the top corner of the net, past the outstretched hand of Shuichi Gonda, for his side’s first shot on target and first goal of the tournament.
It silenced the Samurai Blue fans for the first time, whose current of singing and drums had swept around the stadium for much of the game. It buoyed the Costa Rican support, as their own chants of “Oe Oe Ticos!” grew louder.
With just nine minutes of regular time remaining, Japan saw its hopes of sealing a spot in the knockout stages slip away. A chance late with the ball ricocheting around the box was marshalled by Navas, and Costa Rica held on for the win.