Tuesday Dec 06, 2022. 20:07
Morocco have become the fourth African nation to reach the quarterfinals of a World Cup after they defeated Spain 3-0 on penalties in a round of 16 tie at the Education City Stadium on Tuesday.
Cameroon, Senegal and Ghana have reached the last eight of the senior global men’s tournament before, and the Atlas Lions can now add their name to that illustrious club after an heroic defensive performance that forced a 0-0 stalemate over 120 minutes.
The shootout was a nightmare for Spain, with Pablo Sarabia hitting the post, while Carlos Soler and Sergio Buequets saw their efforts saved by Yassine Bounou – allowing Madrid-born Achraf Hakimi to clip home the decisive kick that sealed the triumph for Morocco.
Spain naturally enjoyed most of the possession from early on, but Morocco did well to defend their penalty area and deny the European side any clear chances through the course of the first half.
La Furia Roja did hit the crossbar on 25 minutes via Gavi – in the wake of a high press forcing goalkeeper Yassine Bounou into a poor pass – but Ferran Torres was offside in the process and a cleaner finish would not have counted.
For their part, the Atlas Lions looked sharp on the counter attack and created a few dangerous moments, including Achraf Hakimi striking an effort just over the crossbar direct from a free kick in the 12th minute, while Noussair Mazraoui had a shot well saved by Unai Simon 10 minutes before the break.
The best chance of the first half went Morocco’s way in the 42nd minute, as Sofiane Boufal played a teasing cross from the left to pick out Nayef Aguerd, but the defender put his header over the target to leave the game 0-0 at the interval.
Spain started the second half strongly and had their first shot on target on 55 minutes, with a short free kick teeing up Dani Olmo to let fly, but Bounou did well to punch the effort away.
The European side then opted for a double change just after the hour mark, introducing Alvaro Morata and Carlos Soler, while Morocco swapped out Boufal in favour of Abde Ezzalzouli.
La Furia Roja completely dominated possession but struggled to find openings in the Morocco defence, with one of their few chances arriving on 82 minutes when Morata got onto a pass from fellow substitute Nico Williams, but pulled his shot across the face of goal from a tight angle.
The North Africans, after a bevy of substitutions, had more energy and threat in the dying minutes of regulation time, but ultimately the game ended level at 0-0 and an extra half-hour was required.
Extra time brought more of the same patterns of play, with Spain bossing the ball but finding no way to penetrate, while Morocco had pace but not enough precision on the counter attack.
One such example in which the Atlas Lions almost broke through arrived on 103 minutes when a chance opened up for substitute Walid Cheddira, but his low shot was saved by the legs of Simon.
La Furia Roja pushed and probed through the remainder of extra time, but Morocco’s incredible defence did not succumb to the pressure – though they were lucky to see substitute Pablo Sarabia clip the post with the last kick of the match prior to penalties.
Morocco will face the winner of Tuesday’s second round of 16 clash – which pits Portugal against Switzerland – in a quarterfinal at the Al Thumama Stadium on Saturday 10 December.
After extra time; Morocco won 3-0 on penalties
Morocco: Bounou, Hakimi, Aguerd (El Yamiq 85’), Saiss, Mazraoui (Attiat-Allal 82’), Amrabat, Ounahi (Benoun 120’), Amallah (Cheddira 82’), Boufal (Ezzalzouli 66’), Ziyech, En Nesyri (Sabiri 82’)
Spain: Simon, Llorente, Rodri, Laporte, Alba (Balde 98’), Busquets, Gavi (Soler 63’), Pedri, Torres (Williams 75’ [Sarabia 118’]), Olmo (Fati 98’), Asensio (Morata 63’)