Morocco takas Spain in World Cup 2022

Morocco's Youssef En-Nesyri
Morocco's Youssef En-Nesyri

Morocco defeated Spain 3-0 in a penalty shootout after drawing 0-0 with them in extra time in Qatar’s 2022 World Cup. The win takes an African, Arab, and Muslim representative to the quarterfinals to play the winner of Switzerland vs. Portugal to be contested later today.

In the end, Spain died with their boots on, playing their classic passing game, and there seemed nothing Luis Enrique could conjure up—particularly as the game progressed and it seemed it was time for Plan B—but bring in more subs vintage New Look Red Fury. On the other side of the pitch, Walid Regragui, the Moroccan coach who took over the national team’s reins in August and has only had an eight-year club coaching career, had the right plan for the right opponent, at the right moment. Checkmate!

The penalty shootout was anticlimactic as all Spanish players either missed theirs (Pablo Sarabia, substituted toward the latter part of extra time for his penalty shooting prowess, hit the keeper’s left post) or had them saved by Yassine Bounou known, ironically in football terms, as “Bono” instead of “Yashin.” Achraf Hakimi, of course, took the final Moroccan penalty and rolled it cheekily down the middle while Spanish keeper, Unai Simon, lay sprawled on the ground to his right.

The match unfolded as expected, with Spain having 77% of possession and weaving 1,019 passes with 13 shots at goal (but only one on target), to Morocco’s 23% possession, six shots, and two on target. Truth be told Morocco had the better chances to win both in regulation and extra time. In particular, their sub, Walid Cheddira, muffed chance after golden chance while facing the goal from close in with only Simon to beat.

It was noteworthy that the Moroccans did what was expected, they had a high line, pressed, and were very compact on defense while very dangerous on the counter. It was just that the Spanish did what was expected too, as Luis Enrique has often insisted, “We don’t need to change our style for any opponent.” So the Moroccans played with the luxury of knowing they had the winning formula and their opponents would not innovate or improvise to counter it.

An important detail in Regraqui’s strategy was sacrificing striker Youseff En-Nesyri, who hung back and denied the ball to Spain’s main traffic controller, Sergio Busquets, who had an unusually small number of touches through most of the match. Another detail of note was Gavi’s play. The Barcelona coaching staff has had talks with their talented little guy about his penchant for fouling, which seems an integral part of his midfield “genius” play. No disrespect intended, he is a gifted player. But, in this match, he was called for fouls at the 13:30, 20:29, 28:30, 35:10, and 40:52 minutes of the match before being subbed at the 62:05 minute of the match, likely to avoid the yellow that was surely coming.

Argentine referee, Fernando Rapallini, did a good job for most of the match and kept what might have turned into a chippy game into an enthralling tactical match despite the lack of goals or major back-and-forth chances. His only mistake was not awarding yellows for repeated fouling or Gavi would have been out of the match long before he was subbed out. But kudos to FIFA for using Rapallini as he was bilingual in English and as a native Spanish speaker could easily connect with the many players on the pitch who ply their trade in Spain.

In the end, Nico, Gavi, Pedri, Alejandro Balde, and Ansu, were really not ready for prime time at the highest of levels, and one style of play, as functional as it may be, is easy to counter if it is your only flavor. Hubris did not win out this time.


Photo: Morocco’s Youssef En-Nesyri, Shutterstock ID 2150117039, by Christian Bertrand.


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