Morocco stuns Spain to reach World Cup quarterfinals for first time

Achraf Hakimi struck the decisive penalty in a shootout to send Morocco into the World Cup quarterfinals for the first time on Tuesday as the African side stunned Spain after a goalless draw.

Spain coach Luis Enrique had claimed he set his players the "homework" of taking 1,000 penalties each. But Pablo Sarabia, Carlos Soler and Sergio Busquets all missed from the spot before Madrid-born Hakimi dinked his home as Morocco won the shootout 3-0, to the delight of their raucous supporters.

Walid Regragui's team will face Portugal or Switzerland in what is uncharted territory for them -- their previous best run at a World Cup was a last-16 exit in 1986.

Spain had been hoping they could repeat their 2010 World Cup triumph after reaching the semifinals of Euro 2020 last year, where they were also beaten on penalties by Italy.

Sevilla goalkeeper Yassine Bounou had other ideas and saved brilliantly from Soler and Busquets, while Sarabia hit the post from the spot.

"In football, this is the best day of my life," said Morocco winger Sofiane Boufal. "Today we made history. We can see the happiness of the people, of our family. Today is amazing, I can't describe it to be honest, the emotion. Today is historic."

Morocco topped their group after beating Belgium and drawing with Croatia, with Spain another scalp on a historic run. The team have conceded just one goal, in a group stage win over Canada, and that tight defense kept Spain at bay.

The teams were closely matched throughout a tense game, with Spain having more of the ball but Morocco creating the better openings, few though they were.

The last African and Arab side left standing at the first World Cup held in an Arab country, Morocco was intensely backed and their fans greatly outnumbered Spain's.

With La Roja playing in a pale blue second strip, they resembled the away team on hostile territory.

Gavi, who at 18 years and 123 days old became the youngest player to start a World Cup knockout game since Brazil great Pele in 1958, rose to the occasion. Regragui's side sat deep defensively, frustrating Spain, and threatened on the counter themselves.

"Nobody managed to steal the ball from them, so I accepted not having the ball," said Morocco coach Regragui. "I'm not a magician."

Boufal, who bypassed Llorente with ease early on, carved the best chance of the half for Nayef Aguerd, who headed inches over.
Bounou pummelled away a Dani Olmo strike from an angle as the tension cranked up after the break.

Luis Enrique withdrew the dogged and muddied Gavi for Soler. He threw Morata on too, giving Spain a focal point in attack, but they struggled to supply him as Morocco sat deeper and deeper.

Morocco was closest to scoring in overtime, testing Simon, who made a fine save with his legs to deny Walid Cheddira after he broke down Spain's left flank.

Despite pressure from Spain in the final moments before penalties, it could not find a winner.

Having been sent on for the shootout, Sarabia struck the post from Spain's first penalty, after Abdelhamid Sabiri put Morocco ahead.

Soler and Busquets were foiled by Bounou, while Hakim Ziyech scored and Simon denied Badr Benoun, before Hakimi netted a chipped Panenka against the country of his birth to ignite wild celebrations.

"The penalties cost us but I am proud of my team," said Luis Enrique. "I take all the responsibility because I chose the first three takers and the players decided the rest -- we didn't get to the fourth. Bounou is a great goalkeeper when it comes to penalties and today he was superb."

* * * * *

The duel took on the appearance of a derby: mainland Spain is only some nine miles from Morocco, visible across the Strait of Gibraltar at the entrance of the Mediterranean Sea.

But beyond the sporting clash, Rabat and Madrid share common interests, including economic, as well as the fight against irregular immigration. After a diplomatic quarrel lasting almost a year over the issue of the disputed territory of Western Sahara, Spain and Morocco drew a line under the spat in mid-March.

The Atlas Lions have also won hearts outside Morocco, with scenes of jubilation erupting in Syria, Saudi Arabia and the Palestinian enclave of Gaza after the kingdom's group matches. Palestinian supporters even improvised a song in honor of the Moroccan team.

Morocco's players unfurled a Palestinian flag during their on-pitch celebrations after their stunning World Cup victory. Even in a context of acute tension between Morocco and neighboring North African nation Algeria, soccer has managed to bridge a gap.

"Your brothers and neighbors are with you," wrote Algeria's DZfoot Twitter account, which has more than one million followers.
Several Algerian internationals also praised the Moroccan feat on social media.

"Far from all the hateful and malicious trolls of social networks, the Algerian people are behind the Moroccan people", DZfoot added.


© Agence France-Presse
2 comments about "Morocco stuns Spain to reach World Cup quarterfinals for first time".
  1. Santiago 1314, December 7, 2022 at 1:40 a.m.

    Tik-Tok, Tik-Tok,... Time is Running out on the Tiki-Taka System...
    Farça Crashed out of Champions League,
    España out of World Cup,
    Pep at Man City signs Halland to Get Some Goals, cause you can't Pass the Ball into the Net... No matter how much Possession Play you have.

  2. frank schoon, December 7, 2022 at 9:21 a.m.

    No surprise with Spain, they have been wallowing in "pass-city" since Guardiola left Spain. Unfortunately, one of the problems is that Spain, historically has never produced great goal scorers, they always had to buy them like Distefano, Cruyff, Kubillas,etc...It is in the nature of the Spanish DNA. As a matter of fact, before Cruyff came to Spain, the Spanish always played counterattacking, which Cruyff changed to offensive soccer.

     In Spain, you never say what's directly on your mind, one expresses things in a circumpect, circular manner so as not to upset or hurt the  other person. Southern Europeans tend to have their macho egos hurt easily as compared to Northern Europeans...

    A country like Holland, where everything that is said is direct to the point, no BS. You will know where a dutchman stands on his opinions, for if you sucked in that game, he'll let you know. This is why the dutch by nature are offensive, socially and soccerwise. Dutch coaches who go to Spain to coach or to Southern European countries will take a course in being less direct and critical to the players in case they fall apart psychologically...

    So there is a connection to the culture of a country, like Holland vs Spain when it comes to goal scores, where  the the former has produced so many greatv scorers with such a little population as compared Spain....I remember in the previous world cup, Spain gave a Brazilian striker, spanish citizenship to play for them..

    Watching those penalties taken by the first first three Spanish players, was a complete joke. Look at the approach of the Busquets to the third penalty, I was saying myself, "when are you going increase or accelerate in order to get momentum behind the kick". Instead he just walked to ball and kick with no power. No wonder the goalie stop it. I could have farted this ball harder going into goal.  Likewise for the second attempted penalty...

    I can't wait for Brazil to win World Cup, they deserve for their nice and offensive instead of hanging playing like the Moroccans and so many other countries....

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