The surprise team Morocco also defeated former world champions Spain in Qatar and are now in the quarter-finals of a football World Cup for the first time. After 120 exciting but goalless minutes, the North Africans won 3-0 on penalties on Tuesday. Their Sevilla goalkeeper Bono saved two penalties at Doha’s Education City stadium, while Spaniard Pablo Sarabia hit the post.
Morocco is only the fourth African country to finish in the top eight teams at a World Cup. Only Ghana in 2010, Senegal in 2002 and Cameroon in 1990 had managed that. In the preliminary round of this tournament, the team of Bayern pro Noussair Mazraoui and former German U21 international Abdelhamid Sabiri had already beaten World Cup runners-up Croatia and World Cup third-placed Belgium calmly.
The Spaniards, on the other hand, had already failed on penalties in the 2018 World Cup round of 16 (against Russia) and in the 2021 European Championship semi-finals (against Italy). With the 2-1 defeat in the last group game, the team had already raised doubts as to whether they would really be among the greats of this tournament.
As at the start of the tournament, the Spaniards stormed with Dani Olmo from RB Leipzig, Marco Asensio from Real Madrid and Ferran Torres from FC Barcelona. And they played in their light blue third jerseys against a vociferous Moroccan majority in the stands, who mercilessly booed the Iberians. Morocco pulled far back with a tight five-man line in midfield in front of a four-man defence. A controversial free kick, kicked just over the bar by ex-Dortmunder Achraf Hakimi, was the first offensive action worth mentioning.
The well-known dangerous right side of the outsider with PSG professional Hakimi and Hakim Ziyech from Chelsea covered veteran Jordi Alba in particular as a returnee in the Spanish starting XI. Before the break, La Roja looked in vain for gaps in the North Africans’ defence. Young stars Gavi and Pedri struggled in attacking midfield. Only Asensio with a shot at the side netting frightened the Moroccans.
Regardless of how the game went, Gavi made a remarkable mark: The super talent from FC Barcelona is now the youngest starting XI player in a knockout duel at a World Cup since Pelé in 1958. The legendary Brazilian was there when his team beat hosts Sweden 5-2 , 17 years and 249 days old. Gavi now played at 18 years and 123 days. At the same time, 34-year-old captain Sergio Busquets drew level with Iker Casillas and Sergio Ramos in his 17th World Cup appearance for Spain.
The Moroccans broke half the defense at the end
The Moroccans were increasingly bold: Full-back Mazraoui from FC Bayern with a sharp shot and Nayef Aguerd with a header created a threat for Unai Simon’s goal. Even after the break, coach Walid Regragui’s team did an enormous amount to ensure that their country’s sixth appearance at the World Cup did not end that evening.
Meanwhile, Spain’s head coach Luis Enrique kept grimacing on the sidelines as the 2021 European Championship semi-finalists’ attacks faltered. An indirect free-kick from a tight angle then saw Morocco goalkeeper Bono raise his fists as Olmo fired. Alvaro Morata then came on with the recommendation of three World Cup goals in Qatar as fresh striker for the drained Gavi.
Substitute Nico Williams also increased the pressure, especially since the Moroccans lost half their defense in the final stages of regulation time: Munich’s Mazraoui and West Ham professional Aguerd were unable to continue playing. But the Moroccans kept fighting and were lucky when Spain’s Sarabia hit the post in extra-time injury. The Spaniards then failed on penalties due to their nerves.