Morocco missed out on the chance to reach the Round of 16 with a game to spare as they failed to take advantage of their dominance against Uzbekistan, eventually settling for a 0-0 draw. Karim Achahbar sparkled in the first half for the Atlas Lion Cubs and Younes Bnou Marzouk was impressive in the second, but the Moroccans were unable to break down the sturdy Uzbeks, who have yet to concede a goal after 180 minutes of football at the FIFA U-17 World Cup in UAE.
The north Africans dominated the early exchanges and were the far better side in the first half. The Uzbeks put up a determined defensive wall, although they had trouble getting anything going on the attacking side. Achahbar, Morocco’s two-goal hero from matchday one, fired a wicked curling effort at goal after only five minutes that was saved by the diving Sarvar Karimov in the Uzbekistan net.
Ten minutes after pulling off his fine first save, Karimov had absolutely no chance to get a hand to Hamza Sakhi’s shot, which curled up and over the goalkeeper and toward the top corner. Fortunately for the central Asians, however, the effort bounced off the inside of the post and crossbar before coming down on the goal-line and back into play. It was a huge let-off and Uzbekistan were able to weather the storm all the way to the interval despite another good chance from the lively Achahbar mid-way through the first period.
The game lost a little bit of its frenzied pace in the first moments of the second half, and Uzbekistan slowly began to scrape their way back into the contest. But Morocco had an extra spark with the introduction of substitute and Juventus-based prodigy Younes Bnou Marzouk, his step-overs and attacking instincts causing all sorts of problems for Uzbekistan. He broke into the penalty area in the 67th minute and looked odds-on for a goal, only to lift his shot from 12 yards over the bar. His try from the same spot five minutes later went wide of the far post.
The Uzbeks had a late chance to steal a result through substitute Jovokhir Sidikov, but his shot from 18 yards was saved by Oussayd Belkouch, who had very little to do for most of the night. Morocco face off with Panama in their final Group C game in Sharjah on Thursday while Uzbekistan take on Croatia that same day in Fujairah.