There was a swelling of Arab pride as Morocco – carrying not just the hopes of a nation, but the entire region – painted this town red.
The contest, for the second night in a row, was finally decided by Russian roulette, and Morocco, to the joy of almost everyone around, won 3-0 (on penalties) as the Spaniards after ‘1000 training rounds’ could shoot only blanks.
While Spain played its usual intricate passing game, Morocco was dogged, stopping its opponent from finding any rhythm. In the 25th minute, Yassine Bounou’s pass to his teammate was robbed, but Gavi’s prompt attempt was stopped by the bar.
Spain, despite enjoying 67 percent possession in the first half, failed to create proper inroads to trouble Morocco, which was happy to sit back and use the pace of its full-backs. An unmarked Nayef Aguerd should have done better with the Sofiane Boufal cross that landed on his head as the Spanish defence had a momentary concentration lap.
Immediately after the break, Dani Olmo’s powerful shot from a narrow angle was fisted out by Bounou. While in the 80th minute, Alvaro Morata latched on to a ball played behind the tired Moroccan defence, but his cutback went abegging as no Spanish player showed the urgency to rush in.
Soon extra-time was upon us, and danger was averted at the Spanish end with a timely toe poke from Aymeric Laporte when Walid Cheddira was just about to put a shot on target. Morocco had a few more chances but its scoring boots were nowhere to be found. And the last chance fell to Spain’s Pablo Sarabia, but his shot kissed the post but didn’t go in and a shoot-out was the only way to decide this game.
Abdelhamid Sabiri dispatched Morocco’s first, but Sarabia could again only hit the post. Bounou dived to his left to save Spain’s next from Carlos Soler but a miss from Badr Benoun kept the Europeans in the hunt after Hakim Ziyech had blasted Morocco’s second penalty in through the middle. But Bounou got a hand to keep out Sergio Busquets, and then the Madrid-born Achraf Hakimi kept his cool in the desert heat to dink in the winning goal.
Spain was out and Morocco through and the surprised fans took some time to believe this was true.
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