Morocco against Spain : With Senegal eliminated by England in the Round of 16 and Ghana , Cameroon and Senegal having failed to advance from the group stage , Morocco remains the only African side at the on-going World Cup in Qatar.
The North Africans seek to join Cameroon , Senegal and Ghana as the only African teams to reach the quarter-finals of the FIFA World Cup.
The Atlas Lions face Spain on Tuesday for their Round of 16 clash at the Education City Stadium in Al Rayyan at 15: 00 GMT. Whilst the Spanish team is the big favourite to qualify , anyone that underrates the North Africans does so at their own peril. Morocco’s undefeated run in Qatar is a good guidance for football predictors.
Spain , winners of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa , spanked Costa Rica by 7-0 but La Roja were not brilliant in their next group matches ; 1-1 against Germany and a 2-1 defeat imposed by Japan. The incredible Morocco on the other hand concluded the group play unbeaten.
The Africans launched their World Cup campaign with a 0-0 against Croatia before producing their best performance to defeat star studded Belgium by 2-0 on November 27th with goals from Romain Saiss and Zakaria Aboukhlal. The next victim was Canada who suffered a 2-1 loss against the team managed by Walid Regragui as Chelsea star Hakim Ziyech and Sevilla attacker Youssef En Nesyri fetched the goals for the Atlas Lions.
But how far can Morocco go at this World Cup?
History is certainly not one of the tools Morocco would want to rely on. Before this year’s World Cup , the North Africans had ever reached the knockout stage once in their five appearances at the Mundial. The Moroccans managed by Brazilian coach Jose Faria topped their group undefeated to reach the Round of 16 at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. They drew 0-0 against both Poland and England before defeating Portugal by 3-1 to win their group.
With notable players like Ezzaki Badou , Abderrazak Khairi , Abdelkrim Merry , Noureddine Bouyahyaoui , Morocco faced West Germany in the last eight but unfortunately they lost by a goal to nil as the Europeans needed an 88th minute winner from Lothar Matthaus to account for the resolute Moroccan side.
Inspiration from Cameroon , Senegal and Ghana
The Last Eight match against Spain is thus an opportunity for Morocco to break their Round of 16 barrier. In history , three African teams have ever reached the World Cup quarter-finals ; Cameroon in 1990 , Senegal in 2002 and Ghana in 2010. Ziyech and his friends could join this list if they are able to edge out a world class opponent on Tuesday.
There is always the first time and that is the source of inspiration Morocco need to overcome the Spanish side.
To be honest seeking to make history against a quality national opposition like Spain is daunting but not impossible as they proved it against Belgium who lined up the likes of Eden Hazard , Kevin de Bruyne and co.
What the Numbers Say?
Morocco recorded two wins and a one draw in their three group matches. They scored four goals and conceded just once (actually an own goal). Spain won their first game , drew the second before losing the third. The Europeans scored nine times and conceded four goals.
Whilst Tuesday’s match represents Morocco’s 20th match at the FIFA World Cup finals , it will be the 67th for Spain and their 10th appearance at the knockout stage.
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