FIRST TIME IN HISTORY MOROCCO MAKES THE LAST EIGHT AS SPAIN SUFFERS MORE PENALTIES
By Rashmi Goel
After a hard-fought goalless draw, the Moroccan goalkeeper Yassine Bounou became the hero for Spain for the third consecutive major tournament. Despite saving two penalties, Spain missed all three and it was Achraf Hakimi, a Madrid-born footballer, who scored the winning penalty with a cheeky Panenka that broke the hearts of the Spanish players. For the very first time, Morocco made it to the quarter-finals of the World Cup, supported by a huge crowd that cheered every defensive move. Throughout 120 minutes, Morocco defended resolutely to force Spain into a penalty shootout after a tense and limited game. When Spain's first penalty was awarded to Spain, Moroccan whistles deafened the Spaniards as Pablo Sarabia, who hit the post with Spain's last chance in extra time, struck the woodwork again.
Morocco sealed its victory with a 2-0 victory in the shootout after Hakim Ziyech converted his effort and Carlos Soler's weak effort was saved. In the following minute, Unai Simon saved Badr Benoun's penalty before Sergio Busquets' shot was remarkably saved by Bounou to give Hakimi a point. This is further devastation for Spain, who lost to Italy in the semi-finals of Euro 2020 and to Russia in the last 16 of the 2018 World Cup. As if that were not enough, manager Luis Enrique promised that Spain had taken 1000 penalties to prepare for this game. As with their previous two exits, his team should have won this match in normal time.
As Walid Regragui's side attempted to strike on the break, they dominated the ball. It was one of the best atmospheres of the tournament every time the north Africans received the ball as the crowd turned the decibels up every time they received the ball. Morocco showed great composure to play out from the back through keeper Bounou after Hakimi whipped a free-kick just over the bar. Sodfiane Boufal skinned Marcos Llorente with a wonderful feint, but the subsequent cross failed to find its target, and in the opening moments, Morocco was able to establish itself in the game. While passing out from the back, they were almost caught out by the offside flag combined with some desperate defending. It was high-risk, high-reward stuff from Morocco, but boy, was it interesting. Upon winning the ball back high up the pitch, Noussair Mazraoui unleashed a long-range effort before further Spanish possession was greeted with deafening whistles.
Throughout the game, Ferran Torres was causing problems on the right wing, while Gavi - the youngest player to start a World Cup knockout game since Pele in 1958 - was excellent on the ball. However, Maroc defended resolutely and had a chance of their own just before half-time. Having slid past another defender, Boufal crossed the ball into Nayef Aguero, who headed it over unnoticed. As a result, both sides went into the break at the same point, with nothing separating them. Alvaro Morata made his debut just after the hour mark after scoring three goals in 126 minutes for his country, but he did not have the desired effect.
The majority of the second period was dominated by Spain, as Morocco sat in their defensive position and posed a puzzle that Luis Enrique could not answer. Moments into extra time, Morocco had a great opportunity when Walid Cheddira raced through, but he took too long to get his shot away and was unable to beat the Spanish defense on the goal. Moreover, Cheddira missed the biggest chance of the game when he was fed the ball in the box, but his left-footed shot was cut down by Simon. Ultimately, however, Luis Enrique could be heading for the finish line. Under Luis Enrique, Spain has won only two of ten major tournament matches in 90 minutes - against Slovakia and Costa Rica. Morocco, however, moves on to the final eight.