Morocco stunned Spain 3-0 on penalties to reach the Quarter-Finals of 2022 FIFA World Cup, following a goalless draw.
A scrappy contest saw Spain dominate possession but failed to create many chances as Morocco defended deep with their counter-attack strategy, which successfully kept Spain out of their goal amidst excellent saves by Yassine Bounou throughout.
Spain eventually paid the price on penalties as Pablo Sarabia, Carlos Soler and Sergio Busquets all missed their spot-kicks, whilst Achraf Hakimi struck Morocco’s winning penalty as the Moroccans scored three of their four penalties to reach their first-ever World Cup Quarter-Final.
Morocco will now play the winner of Portugal’s Round of 16 tie against Switzerland at Al Thumma Stadium, on Saturday 10 December at 6pm AST local time.
Having demonstrated excellent defending throughout the Group Stage, Morocco quickly dug deep as Spain adopted a dominant pass-based press with neither team creating a decent chance in the opening nine minutes.
The first proper chance eventually fell to Hakimi in the 12th minute, as the Moroccan right-back curled a free-kick over the bar after Sofiane Boufal had been fouled.
Spain meanwhile struggled to break down Morocco’s stubborn defence until Bounou made a sloppy pass towards Hakimi in the 25th minute, which was intercepted by Ferran Torres who pulled back for Dani Olmo then Gavi who both saw shots blocked just yards from goal.
Marcos Asensio then found the side-netting just one minute later as Spain began to assert some pressure upon Morocco’s back-four.
Morocco though refused to relent as Noussair Mazraoui saw a long-range shot saved by Unai Simon in the 33rd minute, before Boufal’s cross nine minutes later was headed over the bar by Nayef Aguerd as neither team found a breakthrough goal prior to half-time.
There wasn’t much improvement after the break as Spain continued to dominate possession with their quick-passing style of play throughout the second-half, yet struggled to create chances from open play.
Such was Spain’s poor play that their first shot on target didn’t come until the 55th minute, as Asensio played a free-kick on the left short to Olmo whose curled effort was cleared by Bounou.
Substitute, Alvaro Morata meanwhile missed a late chance to win the game for Spain with eight minutes left, as he dragged a shot wide across goal from a tight angle near the right post.
Having defended for the majority of the second half, Morocco finally created a decent chance in the 86th minute but substitute, Walid Cheddira coulnd’t get full control as he shot on the turn and the ball flew off-target.
Spain broke forward in the 88th minute as Morata teed up Nico Williams with a lay-off pass but Sofyan Amrabat made a crucial block.
Olmo then won a last-gasp free-kick after he was fouled on the left by Romain Saiss but Morata headed wide at the far-post, which meant that the match headed to extra-time after a nervy five minutes of injury-time.
Cheddira proceeded to see two shots blocked as Morocco produced the best attacking chances of the first half in extra-time, whilst Spain continued to dominate possession as their best chance came in the 103rd minute as Rodri blasted over from 35 yards.
Neither team managed much improvement in the second half of extra-time as Morata fired wide on a swift Spanish counter-attack.
Substitute, Jawad El Yamiq then almost flicked Soler’s headed touch from Pablo Sarabia’s cross into his own net in injury-time, as Morocco eventually clung on for penalties after Sarabia volleyed a last-gasp shot onto the left-post.
Perfectly executed penalties from Abdelhamid Sabiri and Ziyech saw Morocco take a 2-0 lead after Sarabia and Carlos Soler both missed for Spain in the first four spot-kicks.
Badr Benoun then missed Morocco’s third penalty but Bounou made an excellent right-handed punch to deny Busquets, which allowed Hakimi to send Morocco through with a clinical penalty down the middle.
Morocco are now through to their first-ever Quarter-Final at a FIFA World Cup and will now face the winner of Portugal’s tie against Switzerland at Al Thumama Stadium on Saturday 10 December.
Morocco: Yassine Bounou, Achraf Hakimi, Nayef Aguerd (El Yamiq 84′), Romain Saiss, Noussair Mazraoui (Attiat-Allah 82′), Azzedine Ounahi (Benoun 120′), Sofyan Amrabat, Selim Amallah (Cheddira 82′), Hakim Ziyech, Youssef En-Nesyri (Sabiri 82′), Sofiane Boufal (Ezzalzouli 66′)
Substitutes: Abderrazak Hamdallah, Anass Zaroury, Abdelhamid Sabiri, Munir Mohamedi, Ilias Chair, Zakaria Aboukhlal, Abde Ezzalzouli, Jawad El Yamiq, Achraf Dari, Walid Cheddira, Ahmed Reda Tagnaouti, Bilal El Khannous, Badr Benoun, Yahia Attiat-Allah, Yahya Jabrane
Spain: Unai Simon, Marcos Llorente, Rodri, Ayermic Laporte, Jordi Alba (Balde 98′), Gavi (Soler 63′), Sergio Busquets, Pedri, Ferran Torres (Williams 76′, Sarabia 118′), Marcos Asensio (Morata 63′), Dani Olmo (Ansu Fati 98′)
Substitutes: Robert Sanchez, Cesar Azpilicueta, Eric Garcia, Pau Torres, Alvaro Morata, Koke, Nico Williams David Raya, Alejandro Balde, Hugo Guillamon, Yeremy Pino, Carlos Soler, Dani Carvajal, Pablo Sarabia, Ansu Fati
Referee: Fernando Rapallini (Argentina)