World Cup rocked by staggering drama as Morocco keeper 'disappears'

Morocco's goalkeeper Yassine Bounou speaks with referees before heading into the field at the FIFA World Cup.
Morocco's goalkeeper Yassine Bounou was a sudden absence after the national anthem, requiring the substitute to start against Belgium. (Photo by Michael Regan - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Morocco left the football world stunned when they defeated FIFA World Cup favourites Belgium 2-0 in their group stage clash, but there was a lot more to the story of their unlikely victory. For one, they lost starting goalkeeper Yassine Bounou before a minute had even been played.

The veteran goalkeeper had lined up for and sung the national anthem alongside his teammates, but as soon as it concluded he gestured to coaches that he was unable to take the field. Back-up keeper Munir El Kajoui was sent out in his place as Bounou appeared to have some kind of issue with his eyes.

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The last minute change of keeper left many fans puzzled, while El Kajoui was thrown right into the fire with Belgium threatening to score in the fourth minute. Belgium captain Eden Hazard had set up Michy Batshuayi, but his shot from a tight angle was calmly stopped by El Kajoui.

Incredibly, BBC commentators didn't actually notice Morocco's last minute switch of keepers until some 25 minutes into the match, such was the last minute nature of the swap as some wondered if he had 'disappeared'. They, as well as fans, would have to wait until after the match for an explanation from coach Walid Regragui.

As it turns out, starting keeper Boubou had copped an incidental blow to the face during their earlier match against Croatia, and had decided in the moments after the national anthem that he wasn't fit to face Belgium.

"He took a whack against Croatia, he was unsteady. We tried until the last moment but after the warm-up, just before the match, he did not feel good and he had the honesty to give way to someone else," Regragui said.

"If you want to be in my squad you have to be 100 per cent and Yassine understood that and gave up his place to Munir, who had a great game."

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Substitute Abdelhamid Sabiri broke the deadlock on Sunday when he outsmarted Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois by whipping in a free kick from a tight angle at the near post in the 73rd minute.

Belgium and Courtois could not say they hadn't been warned: just before halftime, Morocco had a very similar free kick, taken by Hakim Ziyech, ruled out.

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Romain Saiss was marginally offside and referee Carlos Ramos ruled the goal out after a VAR review as the Besiktas defender was obstructing Courtois' view.

When Sabiri struck, Saiss was again the man running across the near post, but this time he was onside.

Zakaria Aboukhlal then guided a shot into the roof of the net from a pass by Ziyech in stoppage time, to the delight of the deafening support for Morocco at Al Thumama Stadium.

Morocco even had to cope with losing goalkeeper Yassine Bounou between the singing of the national anthem and kick off.

Bounou said he was feeling dizzy and was seen in a lengthy discussion with referee Cesar Ramos of Mexico, before being replaced by Munir El Kajoui.

Morocco's starting goalkeeper Yassine Bounou is pictured singing the national anthem alongside two teammates.
Morocco's starting goalkeeper Yassine Bounou was a last-minute scratching for their incredible 2-0 upset over Belgium at the FIFA World Cup. (Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP) (Photo by GLYN KIRK/AFP via Getty Images)

In Brussels, police had to seal off parts of the city centre, and deployed water cannons and fired tear gas to disperse crowds after Belgium's defeat. Dozens of rioters pelted cars with bricks, police said.

This was Morocco's first win at a World Cup since 1998 and only the third in their history.

The victory was a triumph for coach Walid Regragui. Since he took over in September, Morocco have kept clean sheets in six successive matches.

"Today we have achieved nothing. I know everyone is delighted but I know football and you need to respect the game," Regragui said.

"I want everybody to be happy now but we need to recover quickly and get back to work. Canada will be a hard team to play and we have to respect them.

"We have to keep fighting, we want to get past this round and go to the next level."

With AAP

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