Sofyan Amrabat has been at the centre of Morocco's surprise success at the World Cup, and his performances have put the Fiorentina midfielder on the radar of several Premier League clubs.

Amrabat, 26, had his first taste of Serie A football when he was loaned from Club Brugge to Hellas Verona for the 2019-20 season, catching the eye of Fiorentina, who scooped him up the following year.

The defensive midfielder has steadily increased his role at Fiorentina, making 10 starts and three substitute appearances in the league this season.

He played every minute of Morocco's three group games, guiding his side to an undefeated record (W2 D1) with clean sheets against both Belgium and Croatia, and now he is reportedly wanted by the English elite.

 

TOP STORY – AMRABAT EMERGES AS LIVERPOOL AND TOTTENHAM TARGET

According to Sky Sports Germany, Liverpool believe Amrabat can address their midfield depth issues, and could be available for €30million in January.

An earlier report from La Repubblica claimed Tottenham had enquired about a potential deal last January, and his terrific tournament has only strengthened their interest. 

With a blockbuster last-16 clash booked against Spain on Tuesday, another standout performance could have Amrabat packing his bags for an impending move to England.

 

ROUND-UP

– Calciomercato is reporting 23-year-old Barcelona target Martin Zubimendi is also on Manchester United's radar, although the Spaniard's contract ties him to Real Sociedad until 2027.

– Calciomercato is also reporting Cristiano Ronaldo is "very interested" in joining Chelsea if the Stamford Bridge side will have him.

– According to Fichajes, Inter would like to bring Barcelona midfielder Franck Kessie back to Serie A, but cannot afford to purchase him outright in January, while the Spanish side are not willing to let him leave on a loan deal.

– 90min is reporting Real Madrid would need Kylian Mbappe to agree to certain conditions – including a pay cut and significantly less behind-the-scenes influence – if he wants to come to the club in the near future.

– Newcastle United are not planning any moves in January, and are open to parting ways with 28-year-old winger Ryan Fraser, according to the Telegraph.

Morocco coach Walid Regragui believes his team are capable of "great things" after becoming the first African team in 24 years to top a World Cup group.

The Atlas Lions finished first in Group F after beating Canada 2-1 at Al Thumama Stadium while the other pool game, between Croatia and Belgium, ended goalless.

First-half goals from Hakim Ziyech and Youssef En-Nesyri proved enough with Nayef Aguerd's own goal - the first of the tournament - nothing more than a consolation for a Canada side who return home without a point.

Regragui said: "We set ourselves an objective of giving everything we’ve got and trying to get past the group stage. We’ve done that, so why not aim for the sky?

"We’re not going to stop here, we are a very difficult team to beat, so why not dream of lifting the trophy?

"Let's not get carried away but, if we are fighting fit, we know we are capable of great things."

After a dominant first-half performance, Morocco went into their shells in the second but determination and a little luck – Canada substitute Atiba Hutchinson planting a header off the underside of the bar – saw them through.

Regragui added: "It wasn’t easy and when you have this kind of opportunity to make history you think about it.

"I thought the first half display was the best we have had in a long time. It was a shame that we allowed that own goal as it shook us. In the second half, there was pressure on us but I loved it."

Regragui was only appointed at the end of August and Paris Saint-Germain full-back Achraf Hakimi had nothing but praise for the 47-year-old.

He said: "The coach has done an amazing job. He hasn’t had much time but he’s formed an amazing group. We trust in him."

For Canada, Thursday represented the end of a remarkable journey that saw them top the final round of CONCACAF qualifying ahead of Mexico and the United States to reach their first World Cup in 36 years.

English coach John Herdman said: "It’s the first time in a long time that we’ve got here and we’d like to have been here longer.

"We’ve enjoyed the ride, our players have turned up to compete, we’ve been fearless and we’ve had something to celebrate in every game. We’re a young team and we’re developing.

"As a football country we can be proud of the performance and the external world will be talking positively about Canada. We were front-footed and fearless.

"We raised the bar by finishing top of the CONCACAF group and we were two inches away tonight from getting our first point. We had the penalty against Belgium and battled all the way through against Croatia.

"The stats will tell you we weren’t far away. We’ll ask the hard questions as we head towards 2026 but this is not Canada walking away with our heads down, we can keep our heads up."

Morocco became the first African team to top a World Cup group for 24 years after beating Canada 2-1 on Thursday.

First-half goals from Hakim Ziyech and Youssef En-Nesyri proved enough with Nayef Aguerd's own goal - the first of the tournament - nothing more than a consolation for a Canada side who return home without a point.

Morocco must now wait for Thursday's Group E games to see who they will face in the last 16 at Education City Stadium on Tuesday.

Walid Regragui's side needed just a point to guarantee a place in the knockout stages for only the second time, and first since 1986, and they were gifted a dream start after four minutes.

Steven Vitoria’s backpass to Milan Borjan was a little short and the goalkeeper compounded the error with a heavy touch which fell nicely for Ziyech to chip the ball into an empty net from 25 yards.

Canada looked vulnerable every time Morocco came forward and more naïve defending contributed to the second goal midway through the first half.

Achraf Hakimi’s long ball from right-back exposed centre-half Kamal Miller and En-Nesyri ran on to it before firing under Borjan, who again should have done better.

Having posed no attacking threat whatsoever, Canada halved the deficit five minutes before the break. Sam Adekugbe skipped past Hakimi down the left and his low cross was diverted goalwards by the toe of Aguerd with Yassine Bounou unable to keep it out at his near post.

En-Nesyri thought he had restored Morocco’s two-goal advantage before the break, firing home after Canada had partially cleared Ziyech’s inswinging free-kick from the right but his effort was ruled out due to Aguerd blocking Borjan’s view from an offside position.

Perhaps sensing the size of their achievement, Morocco went into their shell as the second half progressed.

Alphonso Davies volleyed wide on the stretch before Canada came within inches of an equaliser after 71 minutes, 39-year-old substitute Atiba Hutchinson heading on to the underside of the bar with Alistair Johnston unable to bundle the rebound over the line.

Morocco held on, though, and a goalless draw in the other pool game between Croatia and Belgium sparked wild scenes of celebration at the final whistle.

 

Morocco boss Walid Regragui warned his team are "ready to die for it" as they look to secure a last-16 spot at the World Cup and send a Group F heavyweight home.

The Atlas Lions are on the brink of the second round after holding Croatia to a goalless draw and topping that result with a 2-0 victory against Belgium. They have recorded successive clean sheets in a World Cup for the first time since 1986, the only past finals where they went past the group stage.

Their third game in Qatar comes on Thursday against Canada, who cannot go any further after failing to pick up a point so far. Morocco may be able to qualify for the knockout phase even if they lose, such is their strong position.

Belgium, ranked second in the world, sit third in the group on three points, behind Morocco and Croatia who each have four. Croatia, the 2018 World Cup runners-up, will tackle Belgium at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium, while Morocco and Canada do battle at the Al Thumama Stadium.

Regragui said his team "haven't done anything yet" and he emerged with a host of injury worries after the Belgium game, with star defenders Achraf Hakimi and Romain Saiss among his concerns.

However, the coach has no doubt over the collective will of his group.

"They're ready to die for it. That's the spirit I want to tell you about, they don't want to be benched," he said.

"We will face a hard team. They have been warning us a lot about Canada, so don't say that Canada is easy now. Canada are a great team, and we must respect them, so we can get a good result. The World Cup is not easy. We must fight towards the last minute, so that we can win."

Canada coach John Herdman has described his team's final outing at this World Cup as "a huge game". They were edged out 1-0 by Belgium before being picked apart 4-1 by Croatia, with the focus now on returning home with a consolation victory, which would be the country's first on the World Cup stage.

"We came here to make history," said Herdman. "This last game is about getting a result and winning for Canada, and really making this country believe that we're in the right direction for 2026."

Morocco have not lost in three previous meetings with Canada in all competitions (W2 D1), most recently enjoying a 4-0 friendly win in October 2016.

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Canada - Alphonso Davies

After missing a penalty against Belgium, the Bayern Munich full-back made a swift impact in the Croatia game by scoring after one minute and eight seconds, giving Canada their first goal in a World Cup. He was typically dynamic and created two chances for others. Davies leads all Canada players for total ball carry distance (473 metres) and chances created (5) so far in the tournament.

Morocco - Romain Saiss

Captain Saiss made 11 clearances out of a team total of 21 against Belgium and made a tremendous nuisance of himself at Morocco's attacking free-kicks, getting a flick to Abdelhamid Sabiri's delivery to put the underdogs in front. He also won four out of four aerial duels, leading by impressive example.

PREDICTION

Stats Perform's AI model gives Morocco a 46.5 per cent chance of taking three points from this one, with the draw rated a 26.2 per cent shot. A Canada win should not be entirely written off though. Herdman's side were impressive in getting through to the World Cup and will want to show a final flourish, with their prospects of a win rated at 27.3 per cent.

John Herdman suggested he will lead Canada on home soil at the next World Cup and says their campaign in Qatar has laid the foundations for an improved showing in 2026.

Canada impressed despite losing their Group F opener against Belgium last week, but their hopes of reaching the last 16 were ended when they surrendered an early lead in Sunday's 4-1 loss to Croatia.

Herdman's team are looking to avoid the ignominy of matching El Salvador's record for the most World Cup games played without avoiding defeat (six) when they face Morocco on Thursday, but the Reds' dynamic style has won them admirers on their first appearance at the tournament since 1986.

With Canada set to join Mexico and the United States in hosting the next World Cup, Herdman is focused on helping the side continue their upward trajectory.

Asked at Wednesday's pre-match press conference whether he would be coaching the team in 2026, Herdman said: "I will be tomorrow. I will be excited tomorrow, absolutely. 

"It's been 11 years of work in this country, and I have been pioneering for a long period of time. 

"You will not find anyone as passionate as I am about this programme, or about these players or about the staff. 

"You will not find anyone as passionate, who wants to take the company to that next level. You'll not meet anyone that's experienced this moment with this team, and the learnings that I'll take from this to take into the next one. 

"The one thing you've seen from us is we've always come back strong. In [the Women's World Cup in] 2015, we finished sixth.

"In the women's Olympics in 2016 we got back-to-back podiums, for the first time in over a century. Five years later, they take a gold medal [at the delayed Tokyo 2020 Olympics].

"We came to this World Cup and [Belgium coach] Thierry Henry told me this team played them off the park. 

"I'll take that. Because if that's our foundation, we've got a great four years ahead, and I can't wait to get after it."

Canada have not beaten Morocco in the teams' three previous meetings (D1 L2), and they suffered a comprehensive 4-0 defeat when they last faced the Atlas Lions in a 2016 friendly.

France, Brazil and Portugal are the only sides to have already secured World Cup knockout football, with numerous teams facing a nervy final matchday as they bid to reach the round of 16 in Qatar.

Pre-tournament favourites Brazil breezed through Group G with wins over Serbia and Switzerland, while France became the first reigning world champions to escape the group stage since the Selecao in 2006.

Portugal made sure of their round-of-16 spot after Monday's Group H victory over Uruguay, yet the likes of England, Spain, Germany and Argentina all need results on matchday three to progress.

The Netherlands are another big name that have yet to confirm their place in the latter stages of FIFA's top tournament, while Belgium face a tense Group F clash with Croatia to avoid an early exit.

Here, Stats Perform takes a look at the permutations riding on the final selection of group-stage action in the Middle East.

Group A

The Netherlands are largely in control of Group A, needing to just avoid defeat against the already eliminated hosts, Qatar.

Louis van Gaal's side will also reach the round of 16 if Ecuador beat Senegal, who have to win otherwise Aliou Cisse's side will rely on a somewhat unlikely win for Qatar over the Netherlands to remain in contention.

Ecuador, who have impressed in their first two games, must win or draw against Senegal to progress. However, Gustavo Alfaro's men could go through in defeat if Qatar beat the Netherlands.

Group B

A win or a draw is enough for England against fierce rivals Wales. Yet, the Three Lions would still progress as long as they avoid a four-goal defeat against Wales, whose goal difference is six fewer.

Iran are guaranteed to qualify with victory over the United States, who know anything other than a win against Carlos Queiroz's side will see them eliminated from the competition.

Quieroz's men could still escape Group B with a draw, though goal difference would come into play if Wales pick up their first win at the tournament against Gareth Southgate's England.

Group C

All four teams can still make it out of an enticing Group C, with Argentina – who were among the pre-tournament favourites – needing to beat Poland to guarantee a round-of-16 place.

La Albiceleste could progress with a draw, however, and would be through in that instance if Mexico and Saudi Arabia also share the spoils.

Yet, if Lionel Scaloni's men are held and Herve Renard's men beat El Tri, Argentina will be eliminated. If Mexico win and Argentina draw, it goes to goal difference.

Poland would go through by avoiding defeat, but would be knocked out by a loss coupled with a Saudi Arabia victory over Mexico, who must win to have any chance of remaining in the tournament.

If Poland lose and Saudi Arabia draw, the two teams will have to be separated by goal difference, which will also be used if Czeslaw Michniewicz's side are defeated and Mexico win.

Group D

France are already in the round-of-16 draw and will top Group D as long as they do not lose to Tunisia and Australia do not defeat Denmark, otherwise the Socceroos would move level on six points with Les Bleus.

While victory would take Australia through, Graham Arnold's side would still reach the knockout stage with a draw unless Tunisia beat France, which would see Jalel Kadri's men progress on goal difference.

Denmark would grab qualification with a win over Australia unless Tunisia triumph over France, which would leave goal difference or goals scored to separate the Carthage Eagles and Kasper Hjulmand's men.

Group E

Spain are the favourites to progress from Group E, requiring a win or draw against Japan. Defeat would see Luis Enrique's side still go through on goal difference, unless Germany lose to Costa Rica.

Germany must pick up three points to stay in contention and would qualify as long as Spain defeat Japan, though a draw in the latter game or a win for Hajime Moriyasu's men would see goal difference needed.

A win for Japan over Spain would take Moriyasu's side through, while a draw – coupled with a stalemate for Germany – would also see the Samurai Blue make the knockout stage.

Costa Rica would earn a last-16 spot with victory and a point would also take them through if Spain overcome Japan. A draw in both games or a defeat for Fernando Suarez's side sees them eliminated.

Group F

Croatia will pass through Group F if they avoid defeat against Belgium, who require victory against the 2018 runners-up to guarantee a place in the round of 16.

Such a win for Belgium would leave Croatia needing already eliminated Canada to overcome Morocco, with goal difference coming into play to separate Zlatko Dalic's side from the Atlas Lions.

A draw is likely not enough for Belgium. They would need Morocco to lose to Canada and then rely on goal difference, though Walid Regragui's men (+2) hold the advantage over Roberto Martinez's side (-1) in the decisive metric.

Morocco would progress with victory over Canada, while a defeat would see Regragui's side reliant on Belgium beating Croatia for goal difference to be decisive between Dalic's men and the Atlas Lions for second.

Group G

Brazil have secured knockout football and will finish as Group G winners with anything other than defeat against Cameroon, who need victory against Tite's side and results to go their way to make the last 16.

Rigobert Song's men would be eliminated if they do not win, though victory is not guaranteed to secure progression as Switzerland could play out a high-scoring draw with Serbia to go through on goals scored, which is used if sides cannot be separated on goal difference – Cameroon are currently on -1 and Switzerland level in the latter metric.

The somewhat expected scenario of Cameroon losing to Brazil would see Serbia and Switzerland become a winner-takes-all clash. 

Dragan Stojkovic's side need victory to progress in that instance, while a draw would be enough for Switzerland. Goal difference would be required if Serbia (-2) and Cameroon (-1) both win their final encounters.

Group H

Portugal are already through and would top Group H by avoiding defeat against South Korea, who could still make a late charge for the round-of-16 stage should the result between Uruguay and Ghana go their way.

The permutations are straightforward for Uruguay and South Korea, who must win to avoid elimination, though qualification is not assured even with victory.

Both teams would be level on four points with victories, again leading to goal difference to separate. Yet, if Ghana beat Uruguay then South Korea's result against Portugal will prove irrelevant for Paulo Bento's side.

A draw for Ghana and a win for South Korea would also see goal difference required to split the two sides, with Bento's men trailing the Black Stars by one in that metric, which could mean goals scored comes into it.

Jan Vertonghen appeared to take a swipe at team-mates Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard following Belgium's shock World Cup defeat by Morocco.

With this tournament regarded as the last shot at glory for the Red Devils' golden generation, Roberto Martinez's side were well short of their best as late goals by Romain Saiss and Zakaria Aboukhlal snatched a 2-0 victory for the Atlas Lions.

Prior to the Group F showdown, De Bruyne and Hazard claimed an ageing Belgium were better equipped to win the World Cup four years ago, when they were narrowly beaten 1-0 by France in the semi-finals.

"We are too old. I think our chance [to win] was in 2018," the Manchester City midfielder said. "We have a good team, but it is getting older.

"We lost key players. We have good new players coming in, but they are not at the level of other players in 2018. I see us more as underdogs."

Skipper Hazard, who feels his side had "greater chances" of glory in Russia, added: "We don't have the three fastest centre-backs in the world, but they know that."

After drawing a blank against Morocco following a 1-0 win over Canada, Belgium have scored the least amount of goals after their opening two matches at a World Cup since the inaugural tournament in 1930 (none).

Vertonghen appeared to take a dig at his team-mates when addressing the media in the mixed zone following the loss. "I guess we attack badly because we are also too old up front," he said.

Defeat to 2018 runners-up Croatia in their final Group F match on Thursday would result in an early exit from the competition, and Thibaut Courtois insists the Red Devils must raise their game.

"We know that Croatia are an excellent team, they have talent and are well-organised," he said. "They are good at counter-attacks, one-on-one and have no flaws.

"It will be like a final - after all, they are the finalists of the last World Cup. So far, we haven't played adequately in this tournament, if we want to win we have to level up."

Hakim Ziyech says Morocco found it "easier" to face Belgium than Croatia after they moved top of World Cup Group F with a 2-0 win over the Red Devils.

Belgium were favourites to secure what would have been a record ninth consecutive victory in a World Cup group game at Al Thumama Stadium on Sunday.

Morocco were worthy winners, though, following up a goalless draw with Croatia by taking all three points in Doha.

Romain Saiss got on the end of Abdelhamid Sabiri's set-piece to open the scoring and Zakaria Aboukhlal sealed a famous victory for the Atlas Lions in stoppage time.

Ziyech was named man of the match after having a first-half goal disallowed for offside and providing an assist for Aboukhlal in the closing stages.

The Chelsea winger said: "The first game was more difficult for us. We couldn't play our game, Croatia played a very good game. This one was perhaps easier, especially in midfield. They may have made more mistakes than the Croats.

"We played a very strong, robust game, especially in defence. We were waiting for their mistakes and I think we took the lead from that and scored at the right time."

Ziyech added: "I don't deserve this player of the match trophy. It's a collective effort, everyone was behind me, it's a collective work."

The former Ajax man felt Morocco's vociferous fans played a big part in a huge win in the battle for a place in the round of 16.

He said: "After 60-70 minutes some were tired and when we scored that goal they rallied behind us. It gave us more power, more power. The crowd helped us, they were behind us and I think that really boosted us."

Morocco’s victory over Belgium was their first in five World Cup matches and put their fate in their own hands heading into a final group game against Canada next Thursday.

A superb second-half performance from Morocco secured a famous 2-0 World Cup victory against Belgium at Al Thumama Stadium on Sunday.

Victory for Roberto Martinez's side would have seen the 2018 semi-finalists become the second side to book their spot in the knockout stage, alongside France, but the Red Devils fell short.

Having seen a first-half free-kick from Hakim Ziyech disallowed, the same tactic provided dividends in the second period as Abdelhamid Sabiri's dangerous ball took a slight touch off team-mate Romain Saiss to put Morocco on course for just a third win in their World Cup history.

The win was then secured in the final minutes of the game, Zakaria Aboukhlal smashing home from close range after Ziyech's fine work to leave Group F wide open with one round of games to go.

Belgium saw the majority of possession early on and dictated play, Michy Batshuayi forcing an early save from Munir Mohamedi, who came into the side as a very late change for Yassine Bounou.

Having been on the back foot for the majority, Morocco thought they had scored on the brink of half-time as Ziyech's free-kick found its way into the net, but Saiss was offside and adjudged to have blocked Thibaut Courtois' line of sight.

Lightning struck twice for Martinez's side after the break, as Sabiri whipped in a dangerous free-kick from the left to the near post which found its way past Courtois via a faint touch off Saiss, who was awarded the goal, with no offside flag to save Belgium this time.

Any hope of a late fightback from Belgium was wiped away in added time, Ziyech winning the ball off a poor touch from Axel Witsel and teeing up Aboukhlal to smash home.

 

What does it mean? Belgium's fine run ends

Winning their past eight group-stage matches at the World Cup, victory would have seen Belgium set an outright record in that regard, while they had not lost at this stage of the tournament since 1994.

Morocco, with just two wins from 17 previous fixtures at the tournament (D6, L9), were largely unfancied before a ball was kicked in a group that contained two semi-finalists from Russia 2018, but they have avoided defeat against both.

A famous triumph inflicted Belgium's first ever defeat to an African nation at the World Cup, and Morocco now just need a point against Canada to reach the knockout stage for the first time since 1986.

Moroccan magic

Heading into the game, Morocco had failed to score in 53 per cent of their World Cup matches (9/17), which stood as the joint-highest percentage of any nation to have played at least 10 matches in the tournament.

While chances from open play were limited, Morocco's effectiveness from set-pieces proved crucial, with the same move against Belgium working twice – though the first was ruled out.

Disappointing De Bruyne

Usually one to pull the strings in midfield, Morocco's fine organisation left Kevin De Bruyne's influence on the match being limited, the Manchester City man creating just one chance for his team during the game.

De Bruyne ended up being the man at the end of attacking sequences for Martinez's side, with more shots (three) than any of his team-mates but failing to hit the target with any, while also losing possession on a game-high 27 occasions.

Key Opta facts

- Belgium have lost seven of their past 19 matches in all competitions (W9 D3), as many defeats as they had suffered across their previous 74 games combined (W57 D10).
- Morocco's victory over Belgium was their first win in five games at the World Cup (D2 L2). Meanwhile, it was the first time that they had recorded consecutive clean sheets at the World Cup since 1986.
- Belgium are just the third side to lose their 50th game at the World Cup, after England in 2002 (v Brazil) and Spain in 2010 (v Switzerland), though the latter went on to win the tournament that year.
- The Red Devils have only scored fewer goals after two games at a World Cup once before (none in 1930) – they had scored eight goals across their first two games in 2018.

What's next?

Morocco tackle Canada in their final group match on Thursday, knowing a draw will be enough to secure a spot in the knockout stage, while Belgium lock horns with Croatia on the same day.

Belgium coach Roberto Martinez conceded his team "lacked joy" in their play after succumbing to a miserable 2-0 defeat to Morocco on Sunday.

The Red Devils went down to goals from Romain Saiss – adjudged to have got the slightest touch on a dangerous Abdelhamid Sabiri free-kick after 73 minutes – and Zakaria Aboukhlal in stoppage time.

It left Belgium, third-place finishers in 2018, teetering on the brink of an early elimination and knowing they will likely have to get something against Croatia in their final Group F game on Thursday to stand any chance of going through.

Belgium have looked disjointed so far in Qatar and Martinez feels they are perhaps struggling with the thought of a final shot at glory for the nation's 'golden generation'.

He said: "I don't see us enjoying it, we have lacked that joy. It may be due to the weight we are carrying on our shoulders. In the last game, we have to play it to win it. We've played the last two like we have something to lose.

"Now we have something to win. If we beat Croatia, we will qualify. The talent is there and the quality in front of goal is always there."

Martinez claimed to be unaware of an interview given by Kevin De Bruyne in which the Manchester City midfielder suggested this Belgium team are weaker than the 2018 group, but he defended the 31-year-old after another subdued display.

Asked why fans have yet to see the best De Bruyne at the World Cup, Martinez replied: "We haven't seen the best Belgium yet, we haven't been at our best.

"Until the goal, the performance was a step forward from the Canada game, and we have never lost the desire to get results, but the team haven't been themselves, not just Kevin.

"We've played with too much responsibility, we need to find that freedom. Football is a team sport but, if we do that, every individual can find a higher level."

Morocco coach Walid Regragui was delighted with his side's display, although he wants them to finish the job and secure a place in the knockout phase. This result followed a draw against 2018 World Cup runners-up Croatia.

"We have four points, that's extraordinary for Morocco," he said. "We played against one of the best teams in the world, with big players. We knew that if we didn't give 100 per cent it's impossible to win, but with these fans, these players, this spirit...

"We are a very difficult team to beat. This is a good win, but we haven't qualified yet. We have four points, but I want more than that. It will be difficult if we get through to the knockout phase but so far we have matched two of the best teams in the world."

Regragui reserved special praise for man of the match Hakim Ziyech.

"He is incredible," he said of the Chelsea winger. "A lot of people talk about him, say he is a crazy guy, he is difficult to manage, he can't help the team. What I see is when you give him love and confidence, he will die for you. That's what I give him. He has my confidence and the confidence of the fans."

Jan Vertonghen was critical of Belgium's performance following a surprise 2-0 defeat to Morocco, referencing things he "better not say".

The Red Devils would have become the second side to clinch their spot in the round of 16 with victory, but they were well short of their best, failing to create opportunities before succumbing to two late goals.

Regarded as the last chance for glory for Belgium's golden generation, Roberto Martinez's side have now lost seven of their last 19 matches across all competitions (W9, D3), as many defeats as they had suffered across their previous 74 games combined (W57, D10).

While Vertonghen feels Belgium were strong for the majority of the clash, he did not shy away from expressing his frustration at the manner in which the opening goal was conceded.

Abdelhamid Sabiri's free-kick to the near post eluded Thibaut Courtois in a carbon copy of a first-half set-piece where Belgium were saved by an offside flag against Romain Saiss.

"We didn't create much. I think we were good overall, we didn't give much away, just an identical goal twice," he told Sporza.

"Twice a resumption of play at the first post. That ball should never go in. The first time we are lucky, but the second time not any more.

"There are a lot of things going through my head that I better not say, or at least not outside [the dressing] rooms.

"It's very frustrating. The first game was not good, and we got away with it well. Not today. I don't think we created any chances."

Defeat to Croatia in the final Group F match on Thursday would result in an early exit from the competition, but Vertonghen believes his side still have the strength in the squad to progress.

"I had the feeling that we were in a good position. We didn't get into trouble. They have a lot of quality in the front. So did we, but with them it came out more," he added.

"After the first match, we thought it could only get better. We were hoping to qualify for the next round today.

"Now we have a difficult final game in which everything will be at stake. The quality in the group is certainly there."

A superb second-half performance from Morocco secured a famous 2-0 World Cup victory against Belgium at Al Thumama Stadium on Sunday.

Victory for Roberto Martinez's side would have seen the 2018 semi-finalists become the second side to book their spot in the knockout stage, alongside France, but the Red Devils fell short.

Having seen a first-half free-kick from Hakim Ziyech disallowed, the same tactic provided dividends in the second period as Abdelhamid Sabiri put Morocco on course for just a third win in their World Cup history.

The win was then secured in the final minutes of the game, Zakaria Aboukhlal smashing home from close range after Ziyech's fine work.

Belgium saw the majority of possession early on and dictated play, Michy Batshuayi forcing an early save from Munir Mohamedi, who came into the side as a very late change for Yassine Bounou.

Having been on the back foot for the majority, Morocco thought they had scored on the brink of half-time as Ziyech's free-kick found its way into the net, but Romain Saiss was offside and adjudged to have blocked Thibaut Courtois' line of sight.

Lightning struck twice for Martinez's side after the break, as Sabiri whipped in a dangerous free-kick to the near post which found its way past Courtois and, while Saiss was again in the proximity, there was no offside flag to save Belgium this time.

Any hope of a late fightback from Belgium was wiped away in added time, Ziyech winning the ball off a poor touch from Axel Witsel and teeing up for Aboukhlal to smash home.

Roberto Martinez will expect a vast improvement from his Belgium side when they go in search of a record-breaking World Cup win over Morocco on Sunday.

The Red Devils were fortunate to beat Canada 1-0 in their first match of the tournament on Wednesday courtesy of a clinical finish from Michy Batshuayi.

Canada were the better side and Alphonso Davies had a penalty saved by Thibaut Courtois before Batshuayi secured all three points.

Belgium looked shaky at the back and got away with a lacklustre performance, Canada failing to find the back of the net with 22 attempts in the opening match of only their second World Cup.

But if Belgium beat Morocco, they will become the first team in World Cup history to win nine consecutive group games.

Morocco held Croatia to a goalless draw in their first Group F match and are plotting to spring a surprise at Al Thumama Stadium this weekend.

The Atlas Lions have injury concerns over Achraf Hakimi and Noussair Mazraoui for the encounter in Doha.

Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku has been back in training as he works his way back from a thigh injury, with head coach Martinez having stated no timeframe has been set on when he might return

Kevin De Bruyne says even if the Red Devils' all-time record goalscorer is only able to take his place on the bench, that would give the squad a lift.

The inspirational midfielder said: "I don’t know how he is, he has been training with us and also apart these days.

"I must admit that he is a player who helps the team a lot, you can feel his presence on the pitch. 

"I don't even know if he will be there against Morocco, but if he were to start from the bench he would be an extra weapon in the game."

Belgium are unbeaten in their four World Cup meetings with African teams and came out on top when the two nations met at the 1994 showpiece, Marc Degryse scoring the only goal of the game.


PLAYERS TO WATCH

Belgium - Michy Batshuayi

In the absence of Lukaku, Batshuayi stepped up to get Belgium off to a winning start as they rode their luck in midweek.

He had five of Belgium’s nine shots and was the only player to register an attempt on goal for the Red Devils before being replaced in the 78th minute.

If Belgium can exert more control on the game, Batshuayi is capable of rewarding them as he should be full of confidence after his decisive strike.

Morocco - Hakim Ziyech

A lack of goals has been a big issue for Morocco in World Cup matches, with the stalemate versus Croatia being the ninth time in 17 games they have failed to find the back of the net.

Hakim Ziyech is one of the players who is capable of getting them firing in Qatar, where he had two shots and created as many chances against Croatia.

The Chelsea winger has shown he can has the quality to produce moments of magic with his wand of a left foot, which Belgium will be wary of.

PREDICTION

Belgium will be expected to make it two wins out of two despite an uninspiring start.

According to Stats Perform's AI model, Martinez's men have a 48.7 per cent chance of securing a record-breaking victory.

Morocco will have seen weaknesses to exploit in that Belgium display against the Canadians and they are rated as having a 26 per cent chance of pulling off a shock victory, with the draw at 25.3 per cent.

Romelu Lukaku is on course to return to action before the end of the World Cup's group stage, according to Belgium boss Roberto Martinez, though he is unlikely to face Morocco on Sunday.

Lukaku was absent as Belgium overcame a lively Canada side 1-0 on Wednesday, having struggled with a thigh injury since returning to Inter on a season-long loan from Chelsea. 

Michy Batshuayi proved a capable deputy against Canada, scoring the winner and posting a team-high tally of five shots, but Belgium's record goalscorer is making good progress in his recovery.

While Martinez is determined not to rush Lukaku back, he views Thursday's final Group F fixture against Croatia as a realistic target for the 29-year-old's comeback.

"Medically, Romelu was only available for the third game and I think we'll carry on with that, but he's ahead of where he should be," Martinez said at Saturday's pre-match press conference.

"He's trained twice with the group and the signs are very good.

"We need to see how he reacts today and then he's going to have another training session. 

"I don't expect him to be involved tomorrow unless something goes extremely well today, and it'd be a little bit of adaptation to be with the group, [he would not be] 100 per cent at the start. That's where he is. 

"The lineup is important but there are two lineups in this World Cup. Five subs means you have a lineup at the start and a lineup at the end.

"What's important for me is that every player who comes on the pitch has an impact, an understanding and the opportunity to enjoy the World Cup. 

"In the first half against Canada we were very, very, very below par. The second half was an improvement, and it's important that we use our players to help the team depending on how our game goes. 

"If you ask me, the game tomorrow is about controlling and being able to be ourselves until the end. 

"Whoever's going to be on the pitch depends on the moment, how the players are [in training] and how I get the feeling the players are getting ready for the game."

Belgium will seal qualification for the round of 16 if they beat Morocco, and they are also bidding to become the first nation in history to win nine consecutive group games at the World Cup.

Eden Hazard accepts Belgium had a better chance of winning the World Cup when their 'golden generation' was at its peak in 2018.

Belgium enjoyed their best World Cup showing four years ago in Russia as they finished third following a 1-0 defeat to eventual winners France in the semi-finals.

But after then losing to Italy in the quarter-finals of Euro 2020, there is a perception Belgium's greatest generation of players has missed its chance of winning a major trophy.

While their squad in Qatar includes many familiar names and several members of the 'golden generation', it is widely accepted most of them are past their best, with the unconvincing 1-0 win over Canada doing little to disprove that notion.

Hazard, who himself is 31 and has had a nightmare with injuries while at Real Madrid over the past three years, is realistic about Belgium's chances, but was keen to remind critics that Roberto Martinez's team still have plenty in their arsenal.

"To be fair, I think we had a better chance four years ago," he told reporters ahead of Belgium's second Group F game against Morocco.

"The team was better four years ago, but we still have the quality to win games, win competitions.

"We have a few guys who are a bit older now but we have experience, we have the best goalkeeper [Thibaut Courtois] in the world, and like I said before, we have one of the best midfields in the world right now, we also have good strikers.

"We are a complete team and I think it's just [we need to show] the desire if we want to win, it's just mentality things.

"We have to enjoy moments, play our game, have fun on the pitch, try to win and then we'll see what happens."

Belgium were roundly criticised for their performance against Canada, particularly after being outplayed in the first half.

 

At the end of the game, Canada – who saw an Alphonso Davies penalty saved by Courtois – had accumulated 2.63 expected goals (xG) to Belgium's 0.77, highlighting just how much of a greater threat John Herdman's side carried.

One recurring theme from that match was apparent tension between De Bruyne and Toby Alderweireld, who were involved in on-pitch spats with each other at least twice.

De Bruyne explained after the game that his frustration stemmed from a belief Belgium – and Alderweireld – were looking for the long ball too often, but Martinez was quick to shut down any suggestion of there being a major problem between them.

"We shouldn't try to get an issue where there's no issue," he added. "You've got two experienced players, they've played – if I'm not wrong – over 70 games together for the national team.

"This is not a young player coming into the team, I think there's a real understanding as a team you need to find what the opponent gives you and at times you play through the lines with pressure, sometimes there's spaces in behind, making the right decisions, and when you do that it's important because you need to react as a team.

"There's no issue there, they're two players who are winners and they want to perform well and they take responsibility, as a team that's where we're working.

"We need to know when we're doing one aspect and when doing the other we do as a team, but it's not an issue at all."

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