An outstanding defensive display from Morocco saw them eventually overcome Spain thanks to a penalty shootout at the World Cup.
Following a goalless 120 minutes of football, the African side held their nerve from the spot to progress.
Luis Enrique made five changes from his side which lost to Japan. Aymeric Laporte re-joined Rodri at the heart of the defence, plus Marcos Llorente also came into the back four. The front three had some adjustments, too, with Asensio and Torres returning to the XI.
Morocco, meanwhile, made just one change from their victory over Canada. Selim Amallah entered the team in place of Abdelhamid Sabiri.
Evenly matched first half
As expected, Luis Enrique’s side dominated possession throughout the opening period of the game. However, Morocco showed that they were not afraid to attack, either. Achraf Hakimi went closest during the opening 15 minutes, flashing a free kick over the bar.
The African side demonstrated a potential weak point in Spain’s game by consistently threatening down the flanks. Former Southampton player Sofiane Boufal impressed, causing Spanish right-back Marcos Llorente problems on multiple occasions.
Boufal’s trickery caused him to be fouled three times during an intense first half, which had 13 fouls in total.
But Spain’s dominance on the ball eventually began to open up chances. Marco Asensio had an opportunity when he ran onto a Jordi Alba through-ball, but his shot hit the side netting. Gavi also saw a shot saved against the bar, although Ferran Torres was offside in the build-up.
Towards the end of the first half, Morocco started to put Spain under pressure. Their resolute defending resulted in opportunities, particularly from set pieces. For instance, West Ham’s Nayef Aguerd headed a chance over after another excellent piece of play from Boufal.
The score-line ultimately reflected a balanced opening forty-five minutes.
Second half: Spain cannot break down relentless Morocco defence
Morocco sat deeper and deeper in their own half following the interval. Despite this, Spain’s patient build-up could not find a way through their organised defence.
Dani Olmo was Spain’s brightest threat, consistently winning free kicks. From these set pieces, Morocco keeper Bono was frequently called into action. Olmo had a few shots parried away, including an injury-time free-kick.
Aiming to get the game won in 90 minutes, Luis Enrique brought on Morata and Nico Williams. The Bilbao forward provided a spark, fizzing in a cross which Aguerd did very well to clear. Williams also had a shot blocked in some further excellent, last-ditch defending.
Meanwhile, Morata had a chance of his own when he flashed a cross-shot across the goal. Unfortunately for him, there were no teammates following in at the back post.
But even with Spain having over 75% possession, Morocco stood tall and prevented their opponents from breaking through. The back four, covered by a monstrous Sofyan Amrabat, were absolutely excellent. They needed to keep concentration for a further 30 minutes, though, as extra time loomed.
Extra-time and pens: Bono the hero
The prospect of reaching the last eight of the World Cup made the extra-time a tense period. Much like the second half, Spain pressed ahead with possession. Meanwhile, Morocco seemed happy to play for a shootout.
Despite this, they had arguably their best chance of the game during the additional 30 minutes. Walid Cheddira was able to get a clear shot off from inside the box, but Unai Simon was able to save it.
In stoppage time, a series of Spanish crosses asked more questions of their opponent’s defence. One searching ball almost gave the 2010 champs a last-gasp winner, however, Sarabia’s volley from a tight angle grazed the far post.
Cue the penalties.
Morocco keeper Bono produced absolute heroics as he made two saves to send his country through to the last eight.
The African side were on the front foot when Abdelhamid Sabiri calmly converted his penalty. Spain then suffered an early setback as Pablo Sarabia – specifically brought on for pens – hit the post.
A calm Hakim Ziyech penalty put Morocco two clear before Bono made his first save from Carlos Soler. A Benoun miss gave the Europeans a glimmer of hope, but Bono’s second stop from Sergio Busquets put Morocco on the brink.
Achraf Hakimi, ironically born in Madrid, deftly chipped home the decisive spot-kick to send Morocco through to the World Cup quarterfinals for the first time ever.
Featured image credit: Getty