The first phase of the World Cup in Qatar has ended with an interesting Round of 16 duel that was not among the expected ones. Spain and Morocco will meet next Tuesday at 16:00 Spanish time at the Education City Stadium in Al Rayyan.
Spain progressed to the next round of the World Cup after a disastrous match against Japan where Luis Enrique's side settled into the superiority they showed in the first half where Morata scored the first goal 10 minutes into the game.
The Spanish coach himself commented after the game that he warned his players that Japan would come out all guns blazing in the second half, but to no avail. The Japanese ran roughshod over Spain and took advantage of some rude mistakes by goalkeeper Unai Simon to score two goals. The first, after an awkward high pass to a team-mate under pressure from an opponent ended in a shot he could have saved. The second was a cross from the same end line that was headed on the goal line as Simón watched in astonishment.
The VAR came in to review that Japan goal because the ball looked like it had crossed the end line, but it didn't have to and the goal went in. The conduct of the World Cup in Qatar is not being too transparent in this type of play.
Spain "collapsed" as Luis Enrique said and left no trace of the team that beat Costa Rica and dominated Germany. There were three minutes in which Spain were out of the World Cup because Costa Rica managed to turn the Germans' goal around and went 1-2 up. Germany made no mistake and ended up scoring four goals that were no good to them because of the Japanese victory.
Spain's path to the final is on the easy side of the group, i.e. the one that would avoid Brazil and Argentina. But what lies ahead is Morocco, Portugal in the quarter-finals and France in the semi-finals if they can get past the Atlas Lions in the first round.
Morocco are on a scoring streak and are playing well. They want to prove that they are one of the best generations in recent years and the arrival of Regragui has brought the team together after the tension of the last few months.
The North African team ended the group stage with seven points, top of the group, with four goals scored and just one conceded. Victory over Canada sealed their passage, but a 2-0 win over third-placed Belgium at the Russia 2018 World Cup was the backbone of their bid to make history in Qatar.
The best news against Canada was that their scorers scored. Ziyech and En-Nesyri both scored, with the Sevilla striker even scoring a third goal that was disallowed for offside. Bono's return from dizziness was also important.
Morocco's post-match party with their fans will ensure that the stands at Education City will again be packed with Morocco supporters on Tuesday against Spain.
Spain and Morocco last met at the 2018 World Cup in Russia in the third group stage match. It was a two-all draw thanks to goals from Isco and Iago Aspas for Spain in the 91st minute and Boutaib and En-Nesyri for Morocco who crashed out of the last 16.
Before that, the two teams had met in 1961 on the road to the 1962 World Cup in Chile. The first match was in Casablanca and Spain won 1-0 with a goal by Luis del Sol. The second was played ten days later at the Bernabéu and Spain won 3-2 with goals from Marcelino, Di Stéfano and Enrique Collar.