Morocco surprises Spain and advances to the quarterfinals of the World Cup

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Achraf Hakimi (2nd R) sent Morocco into the World Cup quarterfinals for the first time with a nerveless winning penalty – Copyright AFP Marco Longari

John Weaver

Morocco stunned Spain in a penalty shootout to reach the World Cup quarterfinals for the first time in their history on Tuesday when Achraf Hakimi scored the decisive penalty.

After 120 goalless minutes at Education City Stadium, Spain failed to score a single penalty as Moroccan goalkeeper Yassine Bounou saved two and Pablo Sarabia hit the post.

That left Paris Saint-Germain’s Hakimi to break the tie with a nerveless splinter kick to wow the predominantly Moroccan crowd.

The only remaining team from Africa, and the only remaining Arab team in Qatar, will face either Portugal or Switzerland in the quarterfinals on Saturday.

Morocco is only the fourth African team to reach the World Cup quarterfinals, after Cameroon in 1990, Senegal in 2002 and Ghana in 2010.

Spain, the 2010 World Cup champions, could not subdue the athletic Moroccan team, with Bounou making a great save from a Dani Olmo free-kick in one of the best chances of regulation time.

In extra time, Walid Cheddira could have won the match for Morocco without the harrowing penalty shootout, but as he pushed his way into the Spanish box, his shot was blocked by the legs of goalkeeper Unai Simon.

Looking for a painful defeat, Spain will wonder how PSG pairing Sarabia and Carlos Soler, and Barcelona veteran Sergio Busquets, failed to score in a penalty shootout that Morocco won 3-0.

“It was a shame, it was decided on penalties in the cruelest way,” Busquets said.

“The penalties cost us but I’m proud of my team,” said Spain coach Luis Enrique.

“I take full responsibility because I chose the first three participants and the players decided the rest, we didn’t make it to the fourth.”

Moroccan celebrations spread across Doha, where thousands of fans gathered at Souq Wafiq, which has become a focal point for fans in the capital, playing drums and trumpets.

– Portugal drops Ronaldo –

In the round of 16 final tie on Tuesday night, Portugal eliminated Cristiano Ronaldo for the clash with Switzerland and Goncalo Ramos selected up front in his place.

Ronaldo, 37, the only man to score in five World Cups, angered Portugal coach Fernando Santos with his reaction to being substituted in the final group game, the loss to South Korea.

Ronaldo was grabbing headlines at the tournament before he even kicked a ball after launching a tirade against Manchester United and their manager Erik ten Hag.

Following a “mutual agreement” departure from Old Trafford, he is now looking for a new team, with sources saying he is in talks about a blockbuster deal with Saudi club Al-Nassr.

The superstar striker, who is participating in what will surely be his last World Cup, has been a shadow of his former self in Qatar despite all the hoopla.

After scoring a penalty in his team’s first clash against Ghana to become the first player to score in five World Cups, he has puffed but failed to find the net again.

Santos said he expected a close contest against Switzerland. Portugal beat Switzerland 4-0 in the UEFA Nations League in June before losing 1-0 in the reverse fixture.

Swiss and Portuguese fight for the last place in the quarterfinals.

On Monday, five-time winners Brazil defeated South Korea 4-1 and will face 2018 finalists Croatia, who beat Japan on penalties.

In the other quarter-finals on Friday, the Netherlands take on Argentina, while England take on France and the tournament’s top scorer, Kylian Mbappé, on Saturday.

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