Morocco defender Jawad El Yamiq said his team “honored Arab and African football” after stunning Spain 3-0 in a penalty shootout in Tuesday’s World Cup round of 16 match that finished goalless after extra time.
With the result, Morocco became the first Arab nation and fourth from Africa to reach the competition’s quarterfinal stage — surpassing the Atlas Lions’ previous best-ever finish in exiting at the round of 16 at Mexico 1986. They will face Portugal on Saturday with a spot in the semifinals on the line.
“We honored Arab and African football. Coach [Walid] Regragui gave us the confidence that we needed in this game, a big boost in morale,” El Yamiq told beIN Sports.
“We knew that Spain depended on their ball possession and we played with that in mind. They didn’t impose any danger.”
The Moroccans were playing in only their second knockout game at a World Cup, an event which is being held in the Middle East for the first time in its nearly 100-year history.
“Right now is a special moment for all Africa, for all the Arab countries, for all the Muslims around this world,” Morocco midfielder Azzedine Ounahi said. “You try to make them happy, try to make ourselves happy. And I think it goes quite well.”
The World Cup in Qatar is the first to be played in the Arab world and only the second to be held in Asia. The tournament began with one of the biggest upsets in history when Saudi Arabia beat two-time champion Argentina on the third day of action.
The Saudis were eliminated, as were host Qatar and Tunisia, in the group stage. That left Morocco as the Arab world’s standard bearer.
“I’m very proud of my fans, of my people and Arabic people,” said Regragui, who is the first African to coach an African team to the quarterfinals.
“Also because I think you have Qatari people here, maybe Algerian people, Tunisian people, Arabic people and African people.”
In front of a packed crowd of 44,667 at Education City Stadium, most of whom were rooting for Morocco, the Atlas Lions frustrated one of the tournament favorites for 120 minutes.
Once in the shootout, goalkeeper Yassine Bounou was the hero with two saves that helped carry Morocco to a historic victory.
“There’s a little bit of feeling, luck, there’s not much you can really say about it,” Bounou, who plays for Spanish club Sevilla, said about his strategy in the post-game news conference.
“You know how penalties are, it’s just one of those things.”
Coach Regragui, though, was full of praise for his experienced goalkeeper as Spain became just the second team in World Cup history not to score in a penalty shootout.
“When you have a goalkeeper like we have, then you have every chance of going through, even though it’s a risk to go through penalties,” he said.
The coach and his players also paid tribute to the supporters who roared them on throughout the more than two hours.
“We knew that we had tremendous support behind us and we drew from that energy tonight,” Regragui said.
Added winger Sofiane Boufal: “The Morocco fans are the best in this tournament. They give us so much strength. They are our 12th man.”
Morocco headed into Tuesday’s knockout match off the back of finishing ahead of 2018 finalists Croatia and semifinalists Belgium to top Group F, while Spain finished second behind Japan in Group E.
The encounter marked the second consecutive World Cup that the teams have faced each other, previously playing to a 2-2 draw in the group stage of the 2018 tournament.
Morocco are now on a five-game undefeated streak in World Cup matches, which breaks a four-game record for the country in the 1970 and 1986 editions of the competition.
Spain have now failed to reach the quarterfinals in four of their last five World Cup appearances, the one exception being when they won the tournament in 2010.
Source : ESPN