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Morocco shock Spain in penalty shootout win

December 6, 2022

In a World Cup scattered with shocks, Morocco produced one of the biggest in front of a partisan crowd. The only remaining African side held 2010 champions Spain to a goalless draw, before winning on penalties.

Morocco's players celebrate beating Spain
Achraf Hakimi, born in Madrid, cooly chipped the decisive penaltyImage: Matthew Childs/REUTERS

As Achraf Hakimi roared in delight, with his chipped penalty still ruffling the back of the net, one could have been forgiven for assuming the Madrid-born defender had just sent his country of birth into the World Cup quarterfinals, rather than the land of his parents.

So impressive was Morocco's display, as they became thefirst-ever Arab country to reach the tournament's final eight, that they looked like the more experienced side from the spot. They sailed past Spain 3-0 in the shootout, having held their opponents 0-0 through 120 minutes.

Meanwhile the former 2010 champions looked toothless upfront as they crashed out of the World Cup on penalties at the Round of 16 for a second consecutive competition. 

After the match, Morocco head coach Walid Regragui praised the supporters, saying: "We fought and made the Moroccan people happy, we made history and Morocco deserve it, the Moroccan people made us united on the pitch"

And, defender Jawad Yamiq added: "We honoured Arab and African football, coach Regragui gave us the confidence that we needed in this game and a big boost in morale."

Partisan crowd lift Morocco to new heights

Long before kickoff in Qatar,streams of Morocco supporters were filing into the Education City Stadium as fans of various African countries threw their backing behind the final non-European or Latin American team at the World Cup.

Moroccan fans pose for a picture
Morocco became only the fourth African club to reach the World Cup quarterfinal after Cameroon, Nigeria and GhanaImage: Ulrik Pedersen/DeFodi Images/picture alliance

The rowdy crowd, led in their chants throughout the game someone acting like a capo – the people who lead most German team's ultras, made it feel as though the match were taking place in middle of Casablanca as opposed to Doha.

Many more fans found themselves huddled together watching on mobile phones, after being denied entry to the stadium, having turned up without tickets hopeful and eager of watching their country create history.

And the North African country, many of whose players were born across Europe, did not disappoint. The passionate support in the stands, was estimated to have reached 150 decibels following Hakimi's penalty — the equivalent of a Jet taking off — and it drove them to an impressive defensive display.

Yassine Bounou dives to hight to save a penalty
Yassine Bounou save Carlos Soler and Sergio Busquets' penaltiesImage: Pedro Nunes/REUTERS

It was the maturity, and at times slight luck, with which Morocco dealt with Spain's customary heavy possessional play that impressed most, as Luis Enrique's side mustered just a solitary shot on target.

It should come as no surprise though, with the Atlas Lions having yet to concede a goal from an opposition player. The only blot on their defensive record so far in the competition came from a Nayef Aguerd own goal against Canada.

"We knew that Spain depend on their ball possession, and we played with that in mind," Yamiq, who plays for Spanish club Real Valladolid explained. "They didn't impose any danger."

Spain fizzle out after fast start

Yamiq's dismissiveness of Spain's threat was an accurate depiction of what La Roja offered up front in all thier matches, apart from their 7-0 opening match demolition of Costa Rica. 

Their problems throughout the match were not only restricted to the top half of the pitch, with the constant decision to keep a very high back line to wide set pieces lucky not to be exploited. The decision to start Marcos Llorente at rightback was also peculiar, given his lack of playing time prior to the game.

Perhaps though the words that will most haunt Enrique was his proclamation prior to the match that his players had practiced "1,000 penalties" in training to avoid a repeat of their shock exit to hosts Russia in 2018.

"I chose the takers, I thought they were the best on the pitch," he said. "(Penalties) are not a lottery for me. You have to control yourself, to know how to control it.

"If I could change something, I would take Bono away and put another goalkeeper there," he continued. "Bounou is a great goalkeeper when it comes to penalties and today he was superb." He wasn't the only one.

Edited by: Matt Pearson