Morocco continued their stunning run at the Qatar World Cup on Tuesday when they upset former champions Spain 3-0 on penalty kicks to reach the quarter-finals for the first time.
Goalkeeper Yassine Bounou saved penalty kicks from Carlos Soler and Sergio Busquets, in between Pablo Sarabia’s kick against the post, to steady the North Africans’ path to success.
Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) defender Achraf Hakimi —- who was born and raised in Spain and had started his career at Real Madrid —- clinched victory for the Atlas Lions.
He scored with a Panenka-like chip into the middle, after Abdelhamid Sabiri and Hakim Ziyech had converted and Badr Benoun’s effort was saved by Spain goalkeeper Unai Simon.
The score was locked at 0-0 after 120 minutes in which scoring chances were sparse, although Sarabia almost stole victory for Spain.
That was when he hit the post for a first time seconds before the shootout.
“I’m so happy for the team. They did a great job for the whole of the game. The team did a great job, an incredible job. All the players,” Bounou said.
Busquets said: “It was really cruel how we lost. Really cruel. It was a Moroccan wall. We were looking for the opening but we didn’t find it. We were just unlucky.”
Morocco became the fourth African country to ever reach the last eight and the first since Ghana in 2010.
They now face Portugal or Switzerland, who complete the round 16 later on Tuesday, on Saturday when they will bid to become the first team from their continent to make the semi-finals.
“A historic victory, I think the people at home are very happy,” forward Walid Cheddira said.
They had already impressed in the group stage where they beat Belgium 2-0 and Canada 2-1 after holding the 2018 runners-up Croatia to a 0-0 draw.
No opposing player has managed to beat them in Qatar as the only goal they have conceded was an own goal by Nayef Aguerd against Canada.
Spain are meanwhile without a knockout victory in three World Cups since lifting the trophy in 2010 against the Netherlands.
They went out in the group stage in 2014 and in the last 16 four years later on penalty kicks against hosts Russia.
They started with an impressive 7-0 win against Costa Rica but never won again, drawing 1-1 with Germany and losing 2-1 against Japan before the exit against Morocco.
At age 18 years and 123 days, Spain midfielder Gavi made history on the day during the game.
He became the youngest player since Brazil legend Pele in the 1958 final (17 years 249 days) to start in a World Cup knockout game.
This was after he had also featured in all group games.
But he and his team-mates badly lacked ideas as they found no way through the Morocco defence, with Marco Asensio hitting the side-netting in the 27th minute.
Bayern Munich’s Noussair Mazraoui tried his luck from a distance at the other end but the ball was gathered by Simon.
Aguerd headed over from a promising position, set up by the lively Sofiane Boufal.
After the break, Dani Olmo’s left-angle free-kick was fisted away by Bounou as Spain tried in vain to up the pressure.
The Atlas Lions had a rare attack with some five minutes left but Cheddira failed to get a dangerous shot towards goal.
Simon then just got the ball away after a backpass ahead of the charging Abdessamad Ezzalzouli.
In stoppage time, Morata’s poor header went well over, and Bounou just palmed away another curling Olmo free-kick which two Spain players had missed.
Cheddira then failed to beat Simon from close range when he should have done better.
This almost backfired when Sarabia fired Rodrigo’s cross against the far post from a tight right angle a minute after coming on.
And when he hit the post again in Spain’s first attempt in the shootout, it set the stage for La Roja drawing a complete blank.
They joined Switzerland in 2006 as the only teams failing to score in a World Cup shootout.(dpa/NAN)