Qatar 2022: Morocco’s heroic win over Spain gets royal approval with call from the King

In one of the most nerve-shredding scenarios World Cup football is capable of presenting a player with, the whole of Morocco needed their star man to deliver the telling blow to Spain.

After 120 minutes of knife-edge football and two successful penalties the pressure moment fell to Achraf Hakimi, the Spanish-born ex-Real Madrid right-back, who may well have lined up for the country of his birth had things panned out differently.

But the 24-year-old had opted for his heritage and now had the weight of responsibility for a nation on his young shoulders, knowing that scoring would take his side through to their first World Cup quarter-final.

The defender stepped up and nonchalantly delivered a dink down the middle of the goal to spark scenes of wild jubilation – before emotionally celebrating the 3-0 shootout victory with his mother in the stands.

Morocco become just the fourth African team – and the first Arab nation – to reach the last-eight stage after Cameroon in 1990, Senegal in 2002 and Ghana in 2010. None of these sides has ever gone further.

After the match, Morocco manager Walid Regragui said: “It is a tremendous achievement and they were all patched up, they all showed tremendous determination.

“We knew we had tremendous support behind us and we drew from that the energy to give that performance tonight.”

Such was their achievement, Regragui received a phonecall from the King of Morocco, Mohammed VI, after the game.

“It’s extraordinary for a Moroccan to receive that call,” Regragui said. “He always encourages us and he gives us advice and he calls on us to give our all.

“His message is always the same, he is proud of the players and he is proud of us and as a result we want to go even further and do even better the next time.”

 ‘Morocco fans ‘love the country’

Hakimi’s telling blow was outrageous, a cool ‘Panenka’ which left Spain goalkeeper Unai Simon on one knee as the ball sailed past him in slow motion.

But the Paris St-Germain full-back would not have had the opportunity to make himself a hero had goalkeeper Yaccine Bounou not saved two penalties and Pablo Sarabia hit the post, with Abdelhamid Sabiri and Hakim Ziyech converting to put their country 2-0 ahead.

Morocco had schooled Spain on spot-kicks and then the celebrations followed, players wildly running around the pitch, Chelsea’s Ziyech lifted onto the shoulders of a team-mate.

Popular coach Regragui, appointed only in September, was thrown into the air by his beaming players.

“I think it is impossible you do that without these fans,” said Regragui. “They are coming to the hotel, wanting tickets, a lot of fans came to Qatar to support the team, from America, from Europe and Morocco.

“They love the country and what I can tell them is we have done nothing. I need them for the quarter-finals but I am very proud of my fans and of my people.”

‘No-one believed, we believed’

Morocco were big underdogs in this game and they knew it.

They stuck to their gameplan by sitting back with a resolute and compact defence which allowed only one Spain shot on target, though Luis Enrique’s side tried to play the opposition into submission with over a thousand passes attempted.

Regragui’s men were pushed on by their vociferous following, vastly outnumbering the Spanish with chanting, dancing and jeering for the entire 120 minutes.

The pocket of Spanish fans behind the goal will not only leave with their hearts broken, but with their eardrums ringing for the rest of the night.

Skipper Romain Saiss epitomised Morocco’s spirit, playing on with a pulled hamstring. West Ham’s Nayef Aguerd was immense before he hobbled off injured, while midfielder Sofyan Amrabat hassled and harried the entire game.

Regragui added: “[Spain are] one of the best teams in the world, if not the best. We couldn’t play too high up the pitch because that was what they wanted us to do.

“We were patient and knew if we got there we had a chance with one of the best goalkeepers in the world. We fought for it.”

Former Scotland winger Pat Nevin said on BBC Radio 5 Live: “You can’t argue Morocco don’t deserve it. The fight, the spirit, and then the guts during that penalty shootout.

“What a historic moment. You can see and feel how much it means to this nation. No-one would have thought they could get this far.”

Joyous Morocco fan Azam, celebrating outside the stadium, told BBC Sport: “No-one believed, we believed. We believe we can win again as well.

“This team are heroes. We love them and they can get to the semi-finals, then the final, then they can lift the world cup. We were not scared of Spain. They have the ball, we have the win.

“The celebrations in Morocco will be as you have never seen. It will be incredible. Like the celebrations here.”

And he was right. There were jubilant scenes in the capital of Rabat as they look forward to another shock on Saturday when they come up against 2016 European champions Portugal.

Source: BBC

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