Morocco goalkeeper Yassine Bono was his side’s hero as they defeated Spain on penalties to reach their first-ever FIFA World Cup quarterfinals. The Sevilla goaltender saved three penalties as the Atlas Lions claimed a 3-0 win in the shootout following a battling 0-0 draw after two hours of action.
Morocco roared out of the group stage, topping a group that had both Belgium and Croatia, to reach the last 16 for the first time in 36 years. They came up against a Spain side that has been named as one of the favourites to reclaim the title they last won in 2010.
In the build-up to the match, Spain manager Luis Enrique revealed that his side were prepared for whatever the match threw at them. He cited their preparedness of having practised 1000 penalty kicks in training after they were knocked out of Euro 2020 by Italy and the 2018 World Cup by Russia, both on penalties.
Morocco quickly showed that they did not intend to be pushovers as they matched the Spaniards stride for stride in the opening exchanges. Marco Asensio had the first real opening midway through the first half, but the Real Madrid man could only find the side netting from a tight angle.
Morocco’s Sofiane Boufal was a menace with his dribbling and direct running, and his cross was headed narrowly over by Nayef Aguerd with half-time approaching.
The second half was much more positive from a Spanish point of view as they had Morocco pinned, but they did not manage to create any real openings or test goalkeeper Bono, and the match went to extra time.
As extra time went on, the Atlas Lions held on desperately as wave after wave of Spanish attack came upon them. La Roja substitute Pablo Sarabia nearly settled the tie with the last kick of the game, as he saw his volley from a tight angle shave the upright.
After two hours, the sides faced penalties. Morocco’s Abdelhamid Sabiri dispatched the first kick of the shootout before Bono saved from Sarabia. Chelsea’s Hakim Ziyech scored his country’s second, and Bono pulled off a second save to thwart Carlos Soler. Morocco’s Badr Benoun missed for the Atlas Lions before Sergio Busquets saw his effort saved by Bono. Madrid-born Achraf Hakimi stepped up with the game on the line and nonchalantly slotted his penalty straight down the middle, sparking wild celebration from the Moroccans.
Morocco have become the first African team to reach the quarterfinals of the FIFA World Cup since Ghana on 2010. They will now face one of Switzerland or Portugal for a place in the semifinals.