Morocco's dream of reaching the World Cup in Qatar 2022 continues. The Moroccan team coached by Walid Regragui beat Spain in the penalty shootout of the round of 16 after a tough and rocky match in which neither team stood out from the other, but in which the North African team finally managed to resist and reach the penalty kicks in which the Spanish team was completely shipwrecked by failing to score the goal defended by goalkeeper Yassine Bounou, who emerged as the great hero.
The stands at Qatar's Rayan Education City stadium were packed with Moroccan fans eager to see the Atlas Lions win, but surely expecting to suffer against a Spain side who, despite not being at their best, always have the weapons to do the damage.
Morocco were not only representing their own country at the World Cup, they were also representing Arab football in the face of European and South American dominance at the World Cup in Qatar, and that gave the match, which was already in the knockout rounds, an epic feel to it. There were images of tension and expectation in the stands, especially in the Moroccan section, with fans in high spirits and often clinging to their faith that the Moroccan national team would qualify.
Indeed, the Moroccan-Spanish encounter was epic and showed little in the way of showy football. The match was tough and tight, with few chances. Spain had more of the initiative against Morocco, who looked more for speed and verticality with Hakim Ziyech, Sofiane Boufal and Youseff En-Nesyri up front and the power on the right flank of Achraf Hakimi, probably the team's most outstanding players. Coach Walid Regragui had clear ideas and put together a solid team that offered virtually no gaps in defence. In the first half, there were few chances of note, except for a powerful shot by Noussair Mazraoui that was saved by Spanish goalkeeper Unai Simón and a header by Nayef Aguerd that went narrowly wide; and, on the Spanish side, a very clear chance with a double shot by Gavi and Ferrán Torres that was saved by Yassine Bounou, but was disallowed for offside.
إلى ربع نهائي المونديال 🤩#DimaMaghrib 🇲🇦 #TeamMorocco #FIFAWorldCup @pumafootball pic.twitter.com/kTECMClutR— FRMF (@FRMFOFFICIEL) December 6, 2022
In the second half, it was more of the same, perhaps Morocco took more refuge in defence and Spain had more control of the ball, but without doing any damage. Luis Enrique brought on Morata and Carlos Soler to make Spain more incisive in attack, but there was no way of creating a clear chance for Morocco, who showed great defensive solidity. As the minutes ticked by, signs of fatigue and muscle injuries began to appear and Regragui had to make several changes to keep the Moroccan team fresh. At this stage of the match, the first-choice centre-backs Aguerd and Romain Saiss had serious physical problems, and the former even had to be substituted due to the tough demands of the match.
Spain did not create any danger with their starting striker Dani Olmo, Marco Asensio and Ferran Torres, nor were they able to create clear chances with Alvaro Morata, Carlos Soler and Nico Williams in the second half, although the latter showed some verticality and runs that did do some damage to the strong Moroccan defence.
Extra time awaited the two national teams and in it came the big chance of the match, which went to Morocco in the 104th minute. A great collective move by Morocco ended with a perfect pass between the lines for Walid Cheddira who almost in the small area could not beat Unai Simón, who saved a goal that was practically a done deal.
The game was not going to last much longer and it came down to the penalty shoot-out. For this one, Luis Enrique had introduced Pablo Sarabia, a consummate expert in the penalty shootout, but he missed Spain's first penalty, hitting the post. Carlos Soler and Sergio Busquets also missed and Bounou saved their spot-kicks to become the absolute hero for the Atlas Lions and the passionate fans who watched as Morocco achieved a real milestone by qualifying for the quarter-finals of a World Cup for the first time in history. It is worth noting that for Morocco, Sabiri, Ziyech and Achraf all scored from penalty kicks.
In the next round, next Saturday the 10th, awaits the Portugal of Cristiano Ronaldo, who totally outplayed Switzerland, beating them 6-1 in a match in which the Portuguese were far superior and in which the striker and star player was a substitute for a team in which other names such as Bernardo Silva, Bruno Fernandes and Joao Félix shine.