Nayef Aguerd’s Morocco made the last 16 of the 2022 FIFA World Cup finals following a 2-1 win over Canada on Thursday afternoon.
Only in 1986 had the Atlas Lions previously made the knockout stages, but a historic triumph at Al Thumama Stadium in Qatar saw Morocco progress - for the second time in their history - as Group F winners.
Goals from Chelsea winger Hakim Ziyech and Sevilla forward Youssef En-Nesyri gave Morocco a two-goal cushion, although Aguerd was desperately unlucky as a cross deflected off his outstretched boot and into his own net before the break.
Morocco’s resilience shined after the interval as they made it two wins and a draw in Group F, and will now face Group E runners-up in the last 16 on Tuesday 6 December.
Having defeated FIFA No2 ranked side Belgium and drawn against the 2018 World Cup runners-up Croatia, Aguerd’s Morocco produced another professional showing in their group-stage finale.
A fortuitous opener settled the early nerves within five minutes. Morocco gifted the lead after Canada goalkeeper Milan Borjan’s poor touch saw Ziyech find an empty net with a delicate chip from 25 yards.
En-Nesyri, who was part of the Sevilla squad West Ham United defeated in the UEFA Europa League last 16 in 2021/22, then doubled Morocco’s lead on 23 minutes.
Such was Morocco’s dominance at that stage of their group-stage finale, that it was a surprise to see Canada push forward in the 40th minute, let alone grab a goal back when a cross hit Aguerd and somehow beat Yassine Bounou – the first goal Morocco have conceded under Regragui.
A Morocco response almost followed Canada’s second goal at the tournament, but En-Nesyri saw his volley ruled out for offside and Morocco had to settle for a slender lead at the break.
Throughout, Aguerd sat at the heart of the defence and continued his showing into the second half.
The Atlas Lions dealt with the growing Canada pressure, although 39-year-old Atiba Hutchinson struck the bar with seventy minutes played – the best chance for Canada, who were unable to force an equaliser.
Unbeaten throughout the group-stage, the former Rennes defender will now look forward to a last-16 tie in five days’ time.