Morocco Reach The Promise Land As Spain Left Chasing Shadows

Morocco Reach The Promise Land As Spain Left Chasing Shadows

Just as Morocco goalkeeper Yasine Bounou dived to save Sergio Busquets’ penalty, the air inside the Education City Stadium in Doha was thick & enveloping, you could feel the tension & emotion as the thousands of Moroccan fans were jumping to the beat of drums, being vigorously played, which they were rather consistently banging on throughout the game; a carnival atmosphere & a night that will be remembered forever.

Most Moroccan fans kept their energy levels tilting to the maximum, jumping in unison to the drum beats, for 130 minutes, as their side delivered one of the greatest upsets in World Cup history.

Bounou, with ‘Bono’ printed on the back of his shirt, might not be as famous as the U2 frontman from Dublin, but tonight he was no lesser a rock star. Saving penalties from Soler & then Busquets, as Sarabia hit the post, Bounou, who plays for Sevilla in Spain itself, put his side in the driving seat in the penalty shootout to inspire, perhaps all of Africa.

As Achraf Hakimi, who plays for PSG, stepped up to face Unai Simon, the crowd in shock by that point, held their breath. Hakimi added the final blow with some style; a paneka sending Simon diving to the side. And as the Moroccan players rushed onto the pitch & the crowd were sent into absolute delirium & ecstasy; they became just the fourth African team to reach the World Cup quarter-finals, since Ghana at the 2010 World Cup.

The scenes were befitting of the narrative of the making of history for the African nation, as Moroccan fans inside the stadium, a large chunk of them in tears of joy, and most of them trying to still assess & comprehend the victory, as unbelievable as it was, celebrated wildly, while outside the stadium some Moroccan fans clashed with the police; but that aside, it was a night that will live in infamy for all of Africa and the tiny Arab country of Morocco.

For Spain, it was a theme that was rather evidently common, they had lionshare of possession, but the lack of an out and out clinical number 9 was their undoing in the end. Even as Alvaro Morata, perhaps the only recognizable striker in the Spanish squad, tried to make runs in behind and beat Bounou in the Morocco goal, and with Pablo Sarabia hitting the post, the African nation held firm.

Spain passed and passed, but couldn’t penetrate Morocco’s low block; Morocco’s defense is arguably the toughest & meanest backline at the World Cup. This is a side that has conceded just one goal all tournament.

Even as Spain moved the ball around and had rapid interchanging of passes, with Rodri & Aymeric Laporte building from the back and holding a high line, they never really looked like they were going to score.

Judging by Spain’s 7-0 victory against Costa Rica where they put the Costa Ricans to the sword, it was rather surprising on the night that Spain had only one solitary shot on target in 130 minutes against Morocco despite having 76, yes 76% possession.

For all the Morrocan fans who made the journey to Qatar, it was unbridled joy & a night to be remembered. They were fervent & relentlessly egging their team on throughout the game, jumping up & down to the drums, almost shaking the entire stadium for the best part of the game.

It was the first major upset of the World Cup, and one that saw Africa triumph over their far superior European counterparts in Spain. While ideologies, philosophies & strategies clashed, from a footballing perspective, it’s nights like this that make football the sport that it is.

It’s a long journey back home for Spain, who were left chasing shadows on the pitch, as a resilient Morocco held firm. This Spain side is still young, and the likes of Gavi, Pedri, and other Spanish youngsters still have the best part of their careers and more World Cups to play in and seek redemption. But for La Roja, it was a wake-up call, and a need to reassess & rethink, because, for all the possession they had, they should’ve tested Bounou in the Moroccan goal much more than they did on the night.

Walid Regragui, the Morocco manager who only took the job of managing the national side in August, has created an exceptionally well-drilled team in the best part of only three months, and his feat with this Morrocan team, which is no fluke, has made the world stand up and take notice.

For Morocco, it was a night that will live in infamy, as the entirety of Morroco took to the streets to celebrate in their homeland, and the fans that made the trip to Qatar had a chance to live their country’s greatest footballing night.

For Morroco, this is a dream run; the most unexpected and unexplainable. But this is football. And only football can deliver moments like this.

It was a great upset; a night that they showed the world their mettle and a night that will be told as bedtime stories in the African nation of Morocco for years to come.

Also read: Asia’s Dream Run Ends As Japan And South Korea Head Home

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