The Atlas Lions of Morocco became the first North African country to reach out to the quarterfinal in the history of the FIFA World Cup after beating Spain on Tuesday evening at the 2022 FIFA World Cup tournament in Qatar
The North Africans reached the World Cup quarterfinals for the first time as they ousted former winners Spain on penalties in a gripping round of 16 tie.
The last African side left in World Cup 2022 defended superbly throughout and had two golden chances to win it in extra time, Walid Cheddira twice going close.
It mattered little as Spain failed with their first three kicks in the shootout, leaving Achraf Hakimi to nervelessly convert the decisive kick and send his team through to a meeting with Portugal or Switzerland in the third quarterfinal on Saturday.
The pattern of the game was established from the first whistle, Spain dominating possession but struggling to find a way through a disciplined Morocco defence.
Luis Enrique’s side had almost 70% of the ball in the first 45 minutes but came no closer than Marco Asensio’s shot into the sidenetting, with Gavi and Ferran Torres both denied in the same move by spectacular blocks although the flag was already up.
Morocco’s game plan was clearly to soak up pressure and try to hit on the break, Noussair Mazraoui’s fierce shot from range stinging the palms of Unai Simon before Nayef Aguerd, unmarked at the far post, headed over a golden chance created by the trickery of Sofiane Boufal.
The same pattern continued into the second period, Morocco goalkeeper Yassine Bono reacting smartly to push away Dani Olmo free-kicks at either end of the half while Alvaro Morata fizzed a shot across the face of goal shortly after his introduction.
Morocco had the two best chances of the first period of extra time, Cheddira first being denied by Amyeric Laporte’s challenge and then the right leg of Simon, but it was the African side’s superb defending at the other end that proved crucial.
Pablo Sarabia hit the post with Spain’s first kick of the shootout before Bono saved from Carlos Soler and Sergo Busquets, giving the chance for Hakimi – born in Madrid – to convert the winning penalty with a Panenka kick.
Morocco lineup (4-3-3): 1. Bono (GK) — 2. Hakimi, 5. Aguerd (18. El Yamiq 85′), 6. Saiss, 3. Mazraoui (25. Attiyat Allah 82′) — 8. Ounahi (24. Benoun 120′), 4. Amrabat, 15. Amallah (21. Cheddira 82′) — 7. Ziyech, 19. En-Nesyri (11. Sabbiri 82′), 17. Boufal (16. Ezzalzouli 66′)
Spain lineup (4-3-3): 23. Simon (GK) — 6. Llorente, 16. Rodri, 24. Laporte, 18. Alba (14. Balde 98′) — 9. Gavi (19. Soler 63′), 5. Busquets, 26. Pedri — 11. Torres (12. Williams 75′; 22. Sarabia 118′), 10. Asensio (7. Morata 63′), 21. Olmo (25. Fati 98′).
By: D. N. A. MENSAH, Daily Mail GH /Follow the writer @SkipperWrites on Twitter