ASpaniards always want to be in control on the football field. They became European champions in 2008. They became world champions in 2010. They became European champions again in 2012. Most of the characters from that generation that dominated the game are gone now, but the core Spanish idea is still there: control, control, control. That led the Spaniards into the conflict they had to fight out on this Tuesday in December 2022: they were playing against a team that is difficult to control. And they lost when there was nothing more to control.
The Moroccans want to create chaos on the soccer field. They realized that they can inflict the greatest possible sporting damage when they take the opponent by surprise with their fast wingers. On the left are the Noussair Mazraoui (FC Bayern) and Sofiane Boufal (SCO Angers). On the right Achraf Hakimi (Paris Saint-Germain) and Hakim Ziyech (Chelsea FC). And when the Moroccans don’t have the ball, they combine speed with a certain physicality. From a sporting point of view, one could therefore say: They are the anti-Spain.
The anti-Spain won the round of 16 against Spain. And with a fitting punchline: Im penalties shoot, the one discipline of the game that you can hardly control, missed all the Spaniards. The Moroccans, who had drawn 0-0 against their big opponents in the Education City Stadium in Doha in the 120 minutes before, did better. They sank three out of four attempts – and are allowed to play in the quarter-finals on Saturday.
“I would select all shooters like this again. The only one I would change would be Bono, the opponent’s goalkeeper,” Spain coach Luis Enrique said later. Veteran Busquets said: “It was really cruel how we lost. Really cruel”. And further: ” “It was a Moroccan wall. We looked for the gap but couldn’t find it. We were just unlucky.”
In the first half, the Moroccans created chaos. The most conspicuous was Boufal, who has not been able to play long for his small club in France since this Tuesday at the latest. He initiated most opportunities – and the biggest. In the 42nd minute he danced out a Spaniard in the penalty area and crossed the ball into the middle where central defender Nayef Aguerd headed it over the goal.
Spain is looking for the gap
And the Spaniards? They found it very difficult. In one situation you could see very well how much these Moroccans defended themselves that evening. 25 minutes had been played when the ball swept into their penalty area. And even if the Spaniard Ferran Torres, which the ball reached was clearly offside, Moroccan goalkeeper Bono and midfielder Sofyan Amrabat threw themselves in each other’s way with passion as Gavi and then Torres fired on goal. Bono directed the first attempt with his hand to the crossbar. Amrabat deflected the second with his leg. Then the assistant referee raised his flag. But the stadium, where the Morocco fans were in the majority, was already shaking.
In the second half, the Spaniards then secured control. You could see center-backs Aymeric Laporte and Rodri passing the ball left-to-right and right-to-left almost minute after minute in the Morocco half. They tried to find the gap that only opened up from free kicks in injury time.
Substitute striker Álvaro Morata headed over the goal in one, while Bono deflected Dani Olmo’s shot wide of the goal in the other. And between the two chances, the Spaniards suffered a brief loss of control. More precisely: Unai Simón, their goalkeeper. He wanted to stop a back pass – couldn’t do it. But he reacted quickly enough to clear the ball. That’s how it went into overtime.
Sarabia fails artfully
There the Spanish control was gone again. Substitute Walid Cheddira had the best opportunity of the game in the 104th minute. He ran towards Unai Simón alone, but shot so weakly that Unai Simón was able to parry. It went back and forth, typical overtime.
In the 120th minute, the Spaniard Pablo Sarabia was free at the second post after a cross. From a very acute angle, he shot the ball artfully on goal – and against the post. So that game ended for the Spaniards in the format in which control can no longer be guaranteed: penalties.
You could see that – and the punch line only got better – not with the Moroccans’ first shot, when Abdelhamid Sabiri put the ball in the ball, but with the Spaniards’ first shot, when Sarabia hit the post. And then you saw it in the second shot by the Moroccans (Ziyech scored) and the second shot by the Spaniards (Carlos Soler missed).
And you could actually see it with the third shot by the Spaniard, which the great strategist Sergio Busquets shot so weakly that Bono was able to parry it effortlessly. Then Hakimi stepped up and scored. And the Moroccan fans were allowed to lose control.