Word Cup 2022: A Moroccan wall sends Spain home

Hakimi Morocco vs Busquets Spain Source: Goal.com

After a 3-0 penalty shoot-out, the big surprise team is now in the quarter-finals of this World Cup. The 31-year-old Bono saved the shots of Carlos Soler and Sergio Busquets in front of 44,667 spectators at Doha’s Education City Stadium.

Pablo Sarabia hit the post right at the start – just like in the final seconds of extra time.

It was a true Moroccan wall

As a result, former world champions Spain failed to find a goal against the Moroccans in 120 thrilling but goalless minutes plus the ensuing penalty shoot-out. The Spaniards had already failed on penalties in the 2018 World Cup round of 16 (against Russia) and in the 2021 European Championship semi-finals (against Italy). It was the fourth defeat in a penalty shoot-out for the Spaniards at the World Cup. No other nation has ever had such weak nerves.

In addition, Spain was only the second team at a World Cup to miss all attempts in a penalty shoot-out. That had only happened to Switzerland in 2006 against Ukraine at the World Cup in Germany

“It was really cruel how we lost. Really cruel,” said Spain veteran Busquets. “It was a Moroccan wall. We looked for the gap but didn’t find it. We were just unlucky.” With the 2-1 defeat in the last group game, Spain had already raised doubts as to whether they would really be among the greats of this tournament.

Morocco is only the fourth African country to make it into the top eight teams at a World Cup: only Ghana in 2010, Senegal in 2002 and Cameroon in 1990 had previously done so. In the preliminary round of this tournament, the team of Bayern professional Noussair Mazraoui and former German U21 national player Abdelhamid Sabiri has already left Croatia, second in the World Cup, and Belgium, third in the World Cup, behind.

For a long time, La Roja searched in vain for a shooting space

The Spaniards, in their light blue third jerseys, played against a vociferous Moroccan majority in the stands, who mercilessly booed the Iberians. Morocco pulled far back with a tight five-man line in midfield in front of a four-man defence. A controversial free kick, kicked just over the bar by ex-Dortmunder Achraf Hakimi, was the first offensive action worth mentioning.

Before the break, La Roja looked in vain for gaps in the North Africans’ defence. Young stars Gavi and Pedri struggled in attacking midfield. Only Asensio with a shot at the side netting frightened the Moroccans.

Regardless of the course of the game, Gavi made a remarkable mark: The super talent from FC Barcelona is now the youngest starting XI player in a knockout duel at a World Cup since Pelé in 1958. The legendary Brazilian was then when his team won 5-2 against hosts Sweden , 17 years and 249 days old. Gavi now played at 18 years and 123 days. At the same time, the 34-year-old captain Busquets drew level with Iker Casillas and Sergio Ramos in his 17th World Cup appearance for Spain.

The Moroccans set the accents

The Moroccans were increasingly bold: Full-back Noussair Mazraoui from FC Bayern with a sharp shot and Nayef Aguerd with a header created a threat to Unai Simon’s goal. Even after the break, coach Walid Regragui’s team did an enormous amount to ensure that their country’s sixth appearance at the World Cup did not end that evening.

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Meanwhile, Spain’s head coach Luis Enrique kept grimacing on the sidelines as the 2021 European Championship semi-finalists’ attacks faltered. An indirect free-kick from a tight angle then saw Morocco goalkeeper Bono raise his fists as Olmo fired. Alvaro Morata then came on with the recommendation of three World Cup goals in Qatar as fresh striker for the drained Gavi.

The Moroccans dwindled and half the defense broke down in the closing stages of regulation time: Munich’s Mazraoui and West Ham pro Nayef Aguerd were unable to continue playing. But they continued to fight valiantly and were lucky when Spain’s Sarabia hit the post in extra-time injury. The Spaniards then failed on penalties due to their nerves.

What the coach had to say

Walid Regragui (Morocco’s coach) said that his players were incredible, with their energy, with their determination against one of the best teams in the world, maybe the best. He said the players followed his instructions to the letter, while expressing uncertaity about how far the Moroccans can go.

Luis Enrique (Spain’s coach) said that they dominated the game but didn’t score. They had created chances, but couldn’t score because the opponents had a high defensive quality. He said that he was happy with his team because they implemented his theory, congratulating Morocco and acknowledging Bono’ exceptional performance.