Morocco sent a message to other Round of 16-bound teams at the FIFA U-17 World Cup with a comprehensive 4-2 victory over Panama in Sharjah that sees the north Africans finish atop Group C.
Despite surrendering an early lead, Morocco were the better side throughout the 90 minutes, though Panama did have the Moroccans under pressure at the start. The Central American side were rewarded in the 20th minute with Werner Wald’s cool strike, Panama’s first goal of the tournament. Capitalising on Christopher Bared’s free-kick that deflected off the Moroccan wall, Wald found the ball at his feet and his finish only required a simple pass from 12 yards to give the Panama the lead.
The ensuing five minutes saw Panama waste two clear chances that would have doubled their lead. And in the 30th minute, Morocco finally came to life and put on an impressive show, dazzling the Sharjah Stadium crowd with four well-crafted goals.
Younes Bnou Marzouk began the scoring for the north Africans with a dazzling run to beat three defenders, finishing past Jaime De Gracia and into the far corner. The leveler took the wind out of the Panamanian sails as the Moroccan crowd urged their team on to take the lead. Ten minutes later, they had their wish with a go-ahead goal, once again Marzouk providing the finish. A brilliant bit of build-up from the Moroccans gave Karim Achahbar all the time needed to get to the goal-line and pick out Marzouk at the top of the area, He calmly curled his effort into the side netting, leaving De Gracia with no chance.
Morocco picked up right where they left off at the start of the second half, adding their third – and probably best – goal of the match four minutes after the break. A deflected cross found its way out to Hamza Sakhi, whose first touch set him up for a well-taken volley at the corner of Panama's penalty area that screamed inside the far post.
Achahbar added a fourth with five minutes to play to put the match firmly out of reach. Jaadi made a run through the heart of the Panama defence and hit a powerful shot from distance that De Gracia could only parry away. Unfortunately for the Panama goalkeeper, his attempted save rebounded off the crossbar and straight into Achahbar’s path for a simple header into the empty net.
Panama added a second goal in the 88th minutes when Ismael Diaz set up Ervin Zorrilla, who finished past Morocco goalkeeper Oussayd Belkouch to send the Central Americans home with at least a little bit of consolation. While the win sees Morocco finish first in Group C, the result also sends Slovakia - from Group A - into the Round of 16. Groups E and F finish up on Friday, and the remaining U-17 sides will regroup over the weekend and prepare for the knockout stages to begin on Monday.