Riots in Rabat. Partying in Casablanca. Tears of joy in Tangier. Morocco has progressed to the quarter-finals of the World Cup in its long history.
It wouldn’t be possible without the enormous exploits of one Yassine Bounou. The Sevilla stopper kept several shots out of the Moroccan net, but it was Spain’s waste that sentenced them to extra time. Spain almost had a goal when Real striker Marco Asensio fired his shot one-on-one wide of Bounou.
But that is not to say that Morocco was better than their European contemporaries. The Athletic Club goalkeeper stopped an attempt by Noussair Mazraoui outside the box in the 32nd minute.
It was a relatively uneventful first 90 minutes as fatigue on both sides got the better of us. Expert tackles from both defenses were the difference between life and death. A last ditch lunge from Sofyan Amrabat blocked an excellent effort from Nico Williams to send the game into extra time.
The extra 30 minutes seemed identical to the 90 minutes that had just passed; both sides just couldn’t finish it. Morocco continued to shred the Spanish defense with what little possession they had. Angers midfielder Azzedine Ounahi beat several defenders to reach the box, losing out to Bari striker Walid Cheddira. Unfortunately, the grateful palms of Simon met, forcing the ball out of harm’s way.
Spain seemed to be the better team in extra time. Their best chance was Pablo Sarabia’s tight volley that clattered into the goalkeeper with the last kick of extra time. It was placed almost perfectly and a few feet could have made Sarabia the hero rather than the ultimate villain.
Of course, the high energy penalty shootout was the highlight of the game.
Morocco book a place in the quarter-finals via penalties
Sampdoria midfielder Abdelhamid Sabiri rolled the first penalty of the game into the bottom right corner, luring Simon the wrong way. Paris star Pablo Sarabia hit the post for his first-ever missed penalty to give Morocco a one-goal lead.
Chelsea’s Hakim Ziyech stepped down. He popped his penalty kick through the middle, leaving Simon surprised and Spain left nervous. Then came Carlos Soler. Bounou skillfully punished Soler’s weak shot and guessed correctly.
Qatar SC defender Badr Banoune almost jeopardized Morocco’s chances of running away with a penalty shootout, but Sergio Busquets’ half-hearted penalty attempt that easily knocked Bounou away gave Morocco its best chance yet to progress to the quarter-finals.
Achraf Hakimi, the face behind the Moroccan team, the man who almost single-handedly drove the Atlas Lions to the World Cup; stepped to the penalty spot. He looked steadfast, calm and confident.
He drives to the penalty spot, hardens his face and leans back for more power. Simon dives to the left.
But Hakimi slides his shot smoothly and softly into the center of the net to give Morocco its first-ever knockout win. Grinning, he waddles like a penguin towards his ecstatic teammates. The world belongs to Hakimi right now, and he knows it.
A first for Morocco
With Morocco’s victory, they become the first African country to advance to the World Cup since Ghana played Uruguay in 2010. A victory against a fiery Portuguese side would make them the first ever African or Arab country to reach the semi-finals. Hakimi, manager Walid Regragui and the Atlas Lions rise to the challenge.
PHOTO: IMAGO / Xinhua
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