Achraf Hakimi, a boy born in Madrid, condemned an incapable Spain to World Cup exile. So incapable that he, not even with three penalties, managed to beat Morocco, a selection of steel. A team that reached the quarterfinals for the first time after shielding themselves wonderfully against Bono, a hero on penalties.
Bond; Achraf Hakimi, Aguerd (El Yamiq, m. 84), Saïss, Mazraoui (Attiat-Allal, m. 82); Ounahi, Amrabat, Amallah (Cheddira, d. 82); Ziyech, En-Nesyri (Sabiri, m. 82) and Boufal (Abde, m. 66).
Unai Simón; Marcos Llorente, Rodrigo, Laporte, Jordi Alba (Balde, m. 98); Gavi (Soler, m. 63), Busquets, Pedri; Ferran Torres (Williams, m. 76; Sarabia, m.118), Asensio (Morata, m. 63) and Dani Olmo (Ansu Fati, m. 98).
Penalties: 1-0. Sabiri. Sarabia fails. 2-0. Ziyech. Carlos Soler fails. Benoun fails. Busquets fails. 3-0. Achraf.
Referee: Fernando Rapallini (Argentina).
Yellow cards Laporte and Saiss
Luis Enrique said the day before that during the course he gave his team homework. Arrive in Qatar with a thousand penalties tried each. Absolute cate for everyone. Sarabia, Soler and Busquets failed. The same fate for Spain, struck down in the same way in Russia 2018 and in the last Euro Cup.
The dazzling Red against Costa Rica and who knew how to compete with Germany did not give up against Morocco, which had it blocked. Lots of ball for nothing. Pure inconsequential rhetoric. A useless fiddling with the ball against an opponent who managed to get the Spaniards to rub and rub the ball without a hint of bad luck. The scourge of Japan was not accidental. Before both goals Spain did not paint anything. The African team amply underlined the reasons why they had only conceded one goal, an own goal against Canada. Croatia, runners-up in Russia, and Belgium, third, were similarly frustrated against the walled Moroccan team.
Morocco has not corrected itself one millimeter from what it is: a raw team, with well-screwed lines, with legs of marble in each dispute. And, compared to the neighbor to the north, in the Education City stadium nothing evoked Doha. The effervescent and numerous Moroccan fans referred to a stadium in Rabat or Casablanca.
Anything more exciting than reaching the greatest football peak in its history against Spain, in Arab territory and before the entire universe? For the Spanish group, a tooth-pulling rival, with all the courage in the world and with a burning spirit. Spain, this time a light blue Red, faced a very intricate game, a lot.
Not one centimeter was conceded by Morocco, sheltered on the outskirts of Bono, with constant aid for the mayor, waiting to steal the ball and blow the bugle at full speed. Luis Enrique’s team – the same as against Costa Rica, except for Llorente for Azpilicueta – had to break through a barricade where there was no way for the air to flow. Doha was a Moroccan boiler, on the field and in the stands. The ball sewn by the Spanish, but without daring. A World Cup, a game of no return, an intimidating scenario. Regragui’s selection, with horizons towards Unai Simón at the slightest Spanish error. There were no warnings in the areas, except for some hesitation from Bono, with his feet somewhat knotted, his hands much looser. A shot from Asensio to the right side of the Moroccan net was the only Spanish footprint in the first act. For once, a Spaniard threw an uncheck (Asensio) and for once a Spaniard had the audacity to filter a pass (Alba).
The exchanges between Alba and Pedri, and between Llorente and Gavi, were of no use to Luis Enrique’s men. There was also no route through the funnel, where Asensio, with less bodywork than the central defenders who had him under arrest, was at an inferiority. The game was settled as Morocco wanted, in hand-to-hand combat, where the only Moroccan Spanish was Gavi, who literally risked his head in a couple of plays. A daredevil. Llorente was bothered by Boufal, a skilful and scintillating winger. But Regragui’s team did not leave footprints at Unai’s ranch either. Just a header from Aguerd after another tangle between Boufal and Llorente.
Nothing was altered in the second section. Spain, pushed to the limit as soon as it tried to take a step forward. Only Dani Olmo put Bono in check, twice. And he had to be on a stiff ball. A lateral free kick to which the Sevilla goalkeeper responded with aplomb. And another free kick in overtime. Rodri crouched down to stun Bono, but the Moroccan hadn’t left for a snack. Between one foul and another, Luis Enrique intervened, who, among other changes, sent Asensio to the bank. The Spaniard was as squeezed by the rival rearguard as the rest, but the game required a spark, a soloist. Ferran, on the other hand, still had rope. Nobody found the potion, there was no way to put the African bailiffs on a diet, who never slackened their jaws. Yes, Spain gave the ball a lot of talk, but they never had the game on their side. The meeting was between Saiss and Aguerd, the solid central defenders of Morocco. The shock was from Amrabat, a Martian pivot, with four lungs and pincers for legs.
There was no one who hit the key from the bench. Nobody cheeky, nor Nico Williams and Ansu. Extra time continued the duel on the same path, except for a key intervention by Unai against Cheddira and a shot at the right post by Bono de Sarabia in the last thousandth. Sarabia himself, who had come out for Nico for the penalty shootout, also caromed into the other post. It was already the horrible batch that sent La Roja adrift. Time to reflect. The first, Luis Enrique, the self-proclaimed leader.
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