“It will be a very difficult and very balanced game,” predicted Spanish defensive midfielder Rodri. He had been right. Thousands of Moroccans would have liked to attend this round of 16, but there were only 44,000 places at Education City. They would have vibrated, prayed and above all trembled like those who had lined the stands of the enclosure. They would have especially exulted when, at the end of the suspense, and while the draw (0-0) had led the two teams to penalties, Achraf Hakimi, the most Spanish of Moroccans, made an incredible panenka to offer his country its first World Cup quarter-final.
On several occasions, Walid Regragui’s men had the opportunity to confirm their fine course. The Parisian Hakimi had already set the tone by rolling up a nice free kick from just above (12th). A shot from Mazraoui, captured in two stages by the Spanish goalkeeper (33rd), a header from Aguerd just above after a cross from a Boufal, very inspired to dribble Llorente (42nd), had given high hopes to the Moroccans .
Masters of the ball, the Spaniards of Luis Enrique did not frame their first strike until the 55th minute with a shot from Olmo. The most dangerous move came in the 82nd minute when a cross shot from Morata sped past the line. After five minutes of additional time, a floating free kick from Olmo forced Bounou into a fine save.
“We had a great game”
Extra time did nothing to ease the increasingly palpable tension on the pitch. For Spain, this was, as noted by Opta, the fifth in their last five knockout matches in a major tournament.
With Soler, the Parisian coming into play in midfield from the 63rd, and Morata in attack, the Spaniards were looking to find the opening. But it was the Moroccans who created the biggest chance. Unfortunately for them, Walid Cheddira, the striker from Bari (Italian League 2), saw his shot diverted by a good reflex from Simon with his right leg (104th). On a counter, Cheddira had another opportunity to become the Moroccan hero but, out of breath, he couldn’t shoot (115th).
Spain then tried to find the opening before the penalty shootout. They were very close to achieving this when Sarabia, who had just entered the game, volleyed a deep cross, but the overpowering ball bounced off the opposite post (123rd).
The Parisian striker blamed himself, but not as much as when he missed the first Spanish shot on goal by finding the post a few moments later. His PSG teammate Carlos Soler was no more successful. This time, it was the goalkeeper, Bounou, who repelled the Spaniard’s not powerful enough shot. As Busquets also failed on the Moroccan goalkeeper and Bounou missed his shot, it was Achfraf Hakimi who found himself with the match point. The right side did not shake. With a panenka, he made all the Moroccan people fall into intoxication and joy.
The Moroccans could launch the goalkeeper Bounou, as decisive as the Croatian Livakovic on Monday, into the sky of Qatar. “We had a huge match,” can launch Walid Regragui at the microphone of BeIN Sports before falling into the arms of his goalkeeper.
Next challenge: the winner of Portugal-Switzerland, for an already historic quarter. Before France in half?