Morocco continued their impressive run at the World Cup in Qatar on Tuesday, beating disappointing former champions Spain 3-0 on penalties to reach the quarter-finals for the first time.
Goalkeeper Yassine Bounou saved Carlos Soler and Sergio Busquets’ spot kicks after Pablo Sarabia had hit the post.
Paris Saint-Germain defender Achraf Hakimi – who was born and raised in Spain and had started his career at Real Madrid – clinched victory for the Atlas Lions with a Panenka-like chip in the middle, after Abdelhamid Sabiri and Hakim Ziyech had converted while Badr Benoun’s shot was saved by Spain goalkeeper Unai Simon.
The score was locked at 0-0 after 120 minutes in which chances were scarce, although Sarabia nearly stole Spain’s victory when he hit the post for the first time seconds before the shoot-out.
“I’m so happy for the team. They did a great job throughout the match. The team did a great job, an incredible job. All the players,” said Bounou.
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 reach the round of 16 and the first since Ghana in 2010. They will now face Portugal, who completed the round of 16 by beating Switzerland 6-1 on Tuesday.
“A historic victory, I think the people at home are very happy,” said striker Walid Cheddira.
They had already impressed in the group stage, where they beat Belgium 2-0 and Canada 2-1 after drawing 2018 runners-up Croatia 0-0.
No opposing player could beat them in Qatar as the only goal they conceded was a Nayef Aguerd own goal against Canada.
Meanwhile, Spain have not won a knockout win 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 round of 16 four years later on penalties to hosts Russia.
They started with an impressive 7-0 against Costa Rica but never won again, drawing 1-1 with Germany and losing 2-1 to Japan before elimination to Morocco.
At the age of 18 years and 123 days, Spanish midfielder Gavi became the youngest player since Brazilian legend Pelé in the 1958 final (17 years and 249 days) to start a World Cup knockout match, after have also participated in all group stage matches.
But he and his teammates lacked ideas as they found no escape in the stubborn Moroccan defence, with Marco Asensio scoring wide of the net in the 27th minute.
Bayern Munich’s Noussair Mazraoui tried his luck at the other end, but the ball was collected by Simon, and Aguerd headed high from a promising position, served up by the vivacious Sofiane Boufal.
After the break, Dani Olmo’s free-kick from left corner was cleared by Bounou as Spain tried unsuccessfully to build up the pressure.
The Atlas Lions had a rare attack with around five minutes remaining, but Cheddira failed to get a dangerous shot on target, and Simon just cleared the ball after a back pass in front of Abdessamad Ezzalzouli’s attack.
In added time, Morata’s poor header went far beyond, and Bounou just deflected another curled Olmo free-kick that two Spain players had missed.
Cheddira then failed to beat Simon from close range when he should have done better, which nearly backfired when Sarabia fired in Rodrigo’s cross at the far post from a tight angle a minute after coming on.
And when he hit the post again in Spain’s first attempt at penalties, he set the stage for La Roja who drew goalless and moved to Switzerland in 2006, as they are the only sides who have failed to score on penalties of the World Cup.