Morocco Upsets Spain Becoming the First Arab Team to Make World Cup Quarterfinals
By: Drew Jackson / Arab America Contributing Writer
Morocco stunned Spain and made history in yesterday’s Group of 16 matches, becoming the first-ever Arab nation to advance to the World Cup quarterfinals.
The Moroccan squad achieved this victory by beating Spain 3-0 in PKs at the end of regulation. The Moroccan team came into the game as +525 underdogs, expected by many to be sent packing after a prompt 90 minutes.
Morocco seemed to have other plans.
Great midfield work and some lucky misses allowed the Arab nation to take Spain to 125 minutes without a score for either side.
At the expiration of extra time, the two teams went into PKs where La Liga vet Yassine Bounou made three clutch saves to send Spain packing.
More popularly known as Bono, the Sevilla goalkeeper shut out the Spanish strikers in a dominant fashion.
The FOX Sports booth loved the clutch saves, with one of the commentators stating, “Bono living rent-free in Solar’s head, talked to him [Solar] before, said I know where you’re going, I speak Spanish.”
The dominant performance from Bono was indicative of his recent play, this past year he was named La Liga’s African MVP.
The Moroccan Men’s Team is 11-2-4 in International play since the start of 2021 and has yet to drop a game this World Cup, already upsetting an international powerhouse in Group play last week. Morocco beat Belgium 2-0 after entering the game as a +295 underdog.
Morocco’s Upset of Spain a Reflection of Resilient World Cup Play
Morocco is tied for the third-best goal differential in the World Cup at three with France and Argentina. The Rabat squad made it out of group play by beating Canada and Belgium and playing Croatia to a draw in their first match of the tournament.
Morocco is the only Arab country still represented in the tournament and the only African country to advance to the quarterfinals this year after Senegal lost to England on Sunday.
“I’m so, so proud to be Moroccan right now, wow, wow, wow. It’s amazing, it’s the best feeling in the world right now,” said a Moroccan national in attendance at Al Jazeera. “I can’t wait for the next match. We’re staying in Qatar. We’re not going home.”
The Atlas Lions’ as many fans call the club is arguably the most represented nation at the World Cup this year, only behind Argentina and Brazil.
Walid Regragui, Moroccan manager has been key to the team’s success. Regragui only joined the team three months prior to the tournament after the tumultuous exit of former manager Vahid Halilhodzic.
A player’s first coach, Regragui has changed the team culture since coming aboard, reinstating former players Hakim Ziyech and Noussair Mazroui.
“A lot of people say that Ziyech is difficult to deal with as if he is a problem child,” Regragui said to ESPN after the World Cup win against Belgium. “But if you give him love and confidence, he is prepared to die for you. I give him that, and he pays me back on the pitch.”
Moroccan investment in homegrown players has also elevated the team to a new plane of competitiveness. Established in 2009 and financed by the King of Morocco since the Mohammed VI Academy in Salé has produced world-class talent from Morocco. The international team is just now reaping the benefits of the academy as four of the current players took part in the youth program.
Notable veterans have carried the squad through the tournament as well, with several of them putting it all on the line for Morocco.
Right-back Achraf Hakimi has been playing through a tough thigh injury sustained in the opening game against Croatia. The professionalism and drive Hakimi are reflected in his ability to play through the pain barrier.
“Achraf is a warrior that you should praise every day,” Regragui said to ESPN ahead of the match. “I asked him if he wanted to carry on, and he said, ‘for my country, I will play.’”
The Spanish loss to a penalty shootout is their third significant loss by PK in recent memory. Spain lost to Euro Champ Italy in PKs last year and dropped to Russia in the 2018 World Cup due to PKs.
Morocco will face Portugal in the semifinals after their dominant 6-1 victory over Switzerland yesterday afternoon.
Scenes of Celebration
The Arab World Supports the Palestinian Cause at World Cup
The Washington Post reported yesterday that in the aftermath of Morocco’s sensational victory over Spain, “the triumphant Moroccan squad posed for a picture with a Palestinian flag, all of which flapped in the stands in a reflection of the Pan-Arab solidarity that has coursed through the first World Cup in the Middle East.” This support was evident throughout the entire tournament where Palestinian flags, keffiyeh scarves, and “Free Palestine banners,” could be observed everywhere in Qatar.
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