Morocco’s Romain Saiss fights for the ball with Spain’s Marco Asensio during the World Cup round of 16 soccer match between Morocco and Spain, at the Education City Stadium in Al Rayyan, Qatar, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
The 2010 champions Spain are out of the World Cup — undone by the closest thing to friendly fire as one can find on soccer’s grandest stage against Morocco in the Round of 16.
Yassine Bounou, who plays his club soccer for Sevilla in Spain, made two remarkable penalty saves and had help from the post on the first one as Morocco becomes the first African team since Ghana in 2010 to make the quarterfinals at the World Cup with a 3-0 triumph in penalties following a goalless draw.
It was Moroccan star Ashraf Hakimi, who was born in Madrid roughly nine miles away from his parents’ home country across the Strait of Gibraltar — the man whom Spain wanted to play for them — who chipped home the cheekiest of winners in the penalty shootout to clinch the historic win for the Atlas Lions.
This is the first time ever that Morocco has ever progressed to the quarterfinals at a World Cup in what is its sixth appearance in the competition. And it once again used its compact, defensive brand that ultimately set up a glorious night in Qatar.
Spain bossed a staggering 63% of possession, completing 1,050 passes compared to Morroco’s 331, while launching 14 shot attempts compared to the Atlas Lions’ six. It had eight corners while Morocco had zero.
Yet Bounou and the Moroccan back line held firm just long enough to force penalties — and only just.
Pablo Sarabia nearly found a winner for Spain in the 123rd minute when he volleyed a cross from a difficult angle near the right goal line off the post. It came seconds after Jawad El Yamiq’s vital foot in front of goal saved a menacing Spanish cross from potentially finding the back of the net.
Sarabia’s pain continued in the penalty shootout when he led Spain off by hitting the post to put La Roja in an immediate hole as he followed Abdelhamid Sabiri’s opening conversion.
Chelsea star Hakim Ziyech put Morocco up 2-0 in the shootout with a cannon right down the middle before Bounou came up big by denying Carlos Soler.
While Spain keeper Unai Simon provided a temporary glimmer of hope when he saved Badr Benoun’s penalty, Bounou slammed the door on Spain when he dove to his right to deny long-time Barcelona man Sergio Busquets and set up Hakimi’s winner.
For Spain, it’s the second consecutive World Cup that ends in penalties in the Round of 16 after losing to hosts Russia in 2018.
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Pantorno is the executive sports editor of amNewYork — a position he has held since January 2020. He covers the New York Mets and New York Islanders while overseeing day-to-day operations of the department.
His previous stops include Bleacher Report and Metro New York while his work has been featured in the New York Post, Newsday, and Yahoo! Sports.