After a thrilling penalty shootout victory over Spain, Morocco has advanced to the World Cup quarterfinals, making history as the first Arab nation to ever do so.
Achraf Hakimi, a Spanish-born superstar wingback for the Atlas Lions, put an end to Tuesday’s last-16 match at the Education City Stadium by scoring the game-winning penalty to make it 3-0 on penalties and excite the throngs of boisterous Moroccan spectators.
Sergio Busquets, Pablo Sarabia, and Carlos Soler all missed penalties for Spain; Sarabia hit the post, and Yassine Bounou stopped the other two attempts from Morocco.
After 120 minutes of normal play, there had been no goals scored, hence added hours and penalty goals were required to break the tie.
On Saturday, Morocco will play between Portugal and Switzerland in the quarterfinals. The Atlas Lions are the only team outside of Europe or South America remaining in the competition.
The use of penalties in Spain is insufficient
Spain was optimistic of repeating their World Cup victory from 2010 in Qatar after a good Euro 2020 campaign that saw them advance to the semifinals before falling to Italy on penalties.
Before Tuesday’s match against Morocco, Coach Luis Enrique stated that he had told his players to take “at least 1,000 penalties” in the lead-up to the World Cup in order to make sure they were prepared to handle the strain of a penalty shoot-out.
However, in the heat of battle, their preparation fell short, as Sarabia, who had been brought on particularly for the shootout; hit the post on Spain’s first penalty.
After Abdelhamid Sabiri had given Morocco the opening shot of the shootout, he missed, which allowed Hakim Ziyech to score for the Atlas Lions and give them a 2-0 lead.
The 31-year-old Moroccan goalkeeper Yassine Bounou then stopped Soler’s shot before Badr Benoun also missed for Morocco.
Busquets’ feeble attempt failed to change the course of the match, setting the situation for Hakimi to take the initiative and casually lead his team to victory with a calm chipped shot down the center of goal, also known as a “Panenka.”
Inflexible Spain is outclassed by tenacious Morocco
Prior to the penalty shootout, Spain controlled more than 75% of the possession during regular and extra time, making nearly 1,000 passes overall, but they had only managed one shot on goal.
The Spanish team simply around Morocco’s penalty area spent large stretches of the game without attempting shots, through-balls, or other maneuvers to dislodge their well-prepared opponents.
While this was going on, Morocco troubled Enrique’s team on the counterattack, prompting goalkeeper Unai Simon to make a number of excellent saves.
The Atlas Lions made excellent use of the speed of Hakim Ziyech and Soufiane Boufal, and a foul on the latter led to the African team’s first scoring opportunity when Achraf Hakimi blasted a free-kick over the goal.
In the 54th minute, Dani Olmo fired Spain’s first effort on goal, but Bounou palmed it away.
Enrique then introduced Alvaro Morata and Nico Williams in an effort to give his squad some life, but Morocco fought valiantly to get it through extra time without losing a goal.
Following Spain’s subsequent failure in the penalty shootout, their tenacious performance made sure they finished as deserving winners.