from HUSSEIN HUSSAIN in Doha, Qatar
DOHA – MOROCCO have for the first time in their history qualified for the quarterfinals of the World Cup, becoming the fourth African team to reach that stage of the tournament.
The only African side remaining at Qatar 2022, the Atlas Lions defeated favourites Spain 3-0 on penalties as the teams finished goalless after extra time at the Education City in Al Rayyan on Tuesday.
Adding a twist to this famous result is that Spanish-born fullback, Achraf Hakimi, and the Spain-based goalkeeper, Yassine Bounou, were Moroccan heroes in the shootout.
Hakimi scored the penalty that secured the win while “Bono” saved spotckicks by Sergion Busquest and Carlos Soler. Pablo Sarabia hit the post.
Abdelhamid Sabiri and Hakim Ziyech scored their penalties for Morocco. Only Badr Benoun missed.
Prior to the penalty drama, the match was a far cry from the 2-2 thriller the side produced in Russia 2018.
Spain, 2010 champions, were typically bossing the possession but not creating any meaningful chances to trouble the back four of Nayef Aguerd, Hakimi, Noussair Mazraoui and Romain Saiss.
In fact the game came to life in the final ten minutes.
Morocco survived a scare in the 82nd minute when Alvaro Morata’s shot flashed past Bono’s goal. At the other end, substitute Walid Chedir could have broken the deadlock but shot tamely straight at goalkeeper Unai Simon.
Morata wasted a great opportunity when he headed over from a set piece in the 90th minute.
Bono kept Morocco in the game too with a great save from a Pedri effort.
Five minutes of injury time were not enough to separate the two sides.
Simon produced a vital save to deny Chedir in a rare extra time attack by the North Africans.
Penalties followed after the slouch of extra time. In the end, Spain learnt a harsh lesson the importance of converting chances. They paid a penalty for not scoring.
By qualifying for the quarterfinals, coach Walid Regragu’s Morocco joined Cameroon (1990), Senegal (2002) and Ghana (2010) to achieve that feat.
For Morocco, what is special is that they were the first side from Africa to reach the knockout stages in 1986.
They face either Portugal or Switzerland, who were to play a Last 16 encounter later on Tuesday.
– CAJ News