The first World Cup held in an Arab nation has produced the Arab world’s first quarterfinalist.
Morocco became only the fourth African country to reach the quarterfinals at the biggest soccer tournament in the world.
This was only the second time Morocco featured in the knockout stages of the World Cup.
In 1986, the North African team reached round 16 of the World Cup in Mexico, losing to Germany 1-0.
Yesterday, they beat Spain 3-0 in a penalty shootout after a 0-0 draw through extra time.
Spain coach Luis Enrique had claimed his players prepared by taking 1,000 penalties as homework but Pablo Sarabia, Carlos Soler and Sergio Busquets all missed from the spot.
Earlier, they advanced from a difficult group that included Canada, 2018 semifinalist Belgium, and 2018 runner-up Croatia.
Interestingly, the team consists of players who were born and brought up abroad.
The team came to the tournament with more than half of its squad filled with players who were not born in Morocco, the most of any of the 32 participating countries.
Achraf Hakimi, who was born in Madrid and previously played for Real Madrid, converted the deciding penalty in the shootout.
Abdelhamid Sabiri and Hakim Ziyech, who returned to the national team after a dispute with the previous coach, also scored.
Morocco has been the biggest surprise of the tournament and will next face Portugal in the quarterfinals on Saturday.
The odds were stacked in the Spanish squad’s favour. Spain has never lost in the three last meetings with Morocco – until now.
The game was the second World Cup meeting between Spain and Morroco.
Spanish players could be seen sobbing and looking crestfallen at the end of the dramatic penalty shootout.
Spain was eliminated on penalties at the 2018 World Cup by hosts Russia.
“We felt the support of our fans, be it in Morocco or any other country in the world,” said Morocco goalkeeper Yassine Bounou, who saved two of the three penalties he faced in the shootout.
Luis Enrique trialled his third right-back of the tournament in Marcos Llorente, and benched the team’s top scorer Alvaro Morata for Marco Asensio, after the shock defeat by Japan. But sadly, the plan failed.
“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.
Congratulations to Morocco for doing the impossible!