Morocco will play a World Cup quarterfinal for the first time after eliminating 2010 world champions Spain at Education City. And the so-called Atlas Lions are now one step away from making history as the first African nation to reach the semifinals by beating either Portugal or Switzerland in Saturday’s last-eight tie.
Coach Walid Regragui’s team went into this game having conceded just one goal — an own goal — in the tournament so far and their defensive organisation was crucial in overcoming Luis Enrique’s team. Morocco rarely looked troubled by Spain, but their inability to score themselves during normal time and extra-time meant that the game went to penalties.
And that’s where goalkeeper Yassine Bounou emerged as a national hero by saving penalties from Sergio Busquets and Carlos Soler, as well as seeing Pablo Sarabia hit a post, as Spain suffered the ignominy of losing a penalty shootout without scoring a single one of their spot-kicks. The defeat means Spain have now lost four of their five World Cup penalty shoot-outs.
For Morocco, though, the chance to go even further in this World Cup has now opened up. Whoever they face in the next round, they will not be overshadowed by their opponents and could yet progress all the way to a semifinal against either England or France. In the first World Cup to be staged in an Arab nation, Morocco’s progress ensures that the whole region still has a team to throw its support behind.