In their World Cup round of 16 match against 2010 champion Spain on Tuesday night, Morocco will carry the hopes of an entire continent.
They are the only member of Africa’s delegation still in Qatar, but they may also be the team best suited to advance far in the competition. It won’t be simple going up against a young, but talented Spain.
Before the match, consider these five talking points.
HATTRICK FOR MOROCCO?
Morocco had its greatest group stage ever with seven points from three games, and they are now attempting an incredible third straight World Cup title. They appear to be a confident team riding the crest of a wave under the leadership of new coach Walid Regragui, who has brought back the players’ smiles. They have only ever reached this stage once, falling to West Germany 1-0 in 1986. On that occasion, they won a competition against Poland, Portugal, and England! The current squad members have not yet been born.
Yassine Bounou is the goalkeeper for Morocco, Youssef En-Nesyri is a striker for Sevilla, Jawad El Yamiq is a defender for Valladolid, and Abde Ezzalzouli is a forward for Osasuna. The North Africans might gain some understanding of the Spanish team as a result. Nevertheless, these teams have only recently met, at the World Cup in Russia, where their group stage match ended in a 2-2 draw, so they are not entirely strangers.
The match in the round of 16 will be overseen by Argentine Fernando Rapallini, who is well-known to the Moroccans. They will be familiar with his style because he officiated their 0-0 group stage draw with Croatia just last week, giving them perhaps a slight advantage over the Spanish. Having said that, the fact that he speaks Spanish will enable him to communicate with the European side more effectively.
Neither a World Cup penalty shootout nor an extra-time game have ever involved Morocco. Therefore, if it happened against Spain, this would be new territory for them. The latter have undoubtedly experienced their fair share, despite frequently coming out on the losing end of shootouts. Only one of their previous four matches that required extra time penalties were victories for them.
Spain has a mixed record in the round of 16, having advanced to this level of a World Cup seven times and winning four of those times. Their most recent victory was in 2010 versus Portugal, which led to them winning the championship. They also made it to this stage in Russia four years ago, but they lost to the hosts on penalties.
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