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Morocco advances to quarterfinal as Spain flops in shootout, 3-0

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Hat-trick hero Ramos helps Portugal thrash Swiss

AL RAYYAN, Qatar — Achraf Hakimi calmly converted a penalty to send Morocco through to the World Cup quarterfinals for the first time with a 3-0 shootout win over former champions Spain after a cagey last-16 clash ended goalless on Tuesday.

The Spanish-born Hakimi chipped in the decisive penalty, prompting a deafening roar of joy and celebration from the Morocco supporters, after their side became the first Arab nation ever to qualify for the tournament’s quarterfinals.

Morocco goalkeeper Yassine Bounou, who plays for Spain’s Sevilla, saved spot-kicks from Carlos Soler and Sergio Busquets after Pablo Sarabia had hit the post and Hakimi, a product of the Real Madrid youth system, held his nerve to earn his team a quarter-final against Portugal.

Morocco became only the fourth African nation to reach the last eight of the tournament, 12 years after Ghana did so in South Africa.

After a scrappy match finished 0-0 after extra time with few shots on target for either side, Morocco fed off the raucous support of their red-clad fans in the shootout as Spain crumbled.

Spain enjoyed more than 75% of possession and completed almost 1000 passes but Morocco caused problems for them on the counter-attack and goalkeeper Unai Simon made some good saves.

“We fought and made the Moroccan people happy, we made history and Morocco deserve it, Moroccan people made us united on the pitch,” coach Walid Regragui said.

Morocco defender Jawad Yamiq was proud of his team’s performance.

“We honored the Arab and African football, coach Regragui gave us the confidence that we needed in this game, a big boost in morale,” he said.

“We knew that Spain depend on their ball possession and we played with that in mind. They didn’t impose any danger.”

It was the fourth time Spain have been knocked out of the World Cup on penalties and the second in a row

It was a huge blow for Luis Enrique’s team, who arrived in Qatar as one of the favorites after reaching the Euro 2020 semifinals and the Nations League final last year.

“We completely dominated the match, it’s a shame it went that way,” the Spain coach told TVE.

“It’s the most difficult thing, playing against a team like Morocco who are hard workers.

“The penalties cost us, but I am very proud of the team and all the players. I’m very sorry about the result but I congratulate Morocco.”

Spain spent big chunks of the match orbiting around the Morocco penalty area without attempting any shots, through balls or moves to break down their well organized opponents.

They tried to play the possession-style game that was the trademark of the great Spanish sides who won two European Championships and the World Cup between 2008 and 2012.

But they lacked a cutting edge and Morocco allowed them possession while trying to exploit the pace of Hakim Ziyech and Soufiane Boufal.

A foul on the latter gave the African side the first scoring opportunity as Hakimi blazed over a free kick.

In a tight first half, the only other chances came when defender Nayef Aguerd headed over and Marco Asensio hit the side-netting for Spain.

Dani Olmo had Spain’s first shot on-target in the 54th minute with an angled shot which Bounou palmed away.

Luis Enrique sent on Alvaro Morata and Nico Williams to inject a bit of life into his team and Morocco had to dig deep to get through extra time without conceding.

They managed to do so and Spain’s collapse in the shootout prompted wild celebrations among the ecstatic Morocco supporters who will get at least one more chance to make their presence felt in Qatar.

Portugal’s Goncalo Ramos rose to the occasion on his first World Cup start to net a hat-trick in a 6-1 demolition of Switzerland on Tuesday, sending his side through to the quarterfinals for the first time in 16 years and setting up a clash with Morocco.

Portugal coach Fernando Santos had benched the country’s all-time top scorer Cristiano Ronaldo, tasking Benfica forward Ramos with leading the line despite the 21-year-old making his debut just three days before the World Cup in a friendly.

Ramos had played only 10 minutes as a substitute in Qatar but the youngster looked like he belonged on the big stage with a memorable performance for Portugal, who did not miss Ronaldo — a late substitute who had a goal ruled out for offside.

After a tepid start, the game came to life when Ramos opened the scoring in the 17th minute by picking up Joao Felix’s incisive pass before blasting the ball into the top corner from a tight angle to put the Portuguese ahead.

They doubled their lead through skipper Pepe when the 39-year-old timed his leap to perfection to rise above the two Swiss centre backs and head home from a Bruno Fernandes corner in the 33rd minute, with Yann Sommer well beaten yet again.

Switzerland striker Breel Embolo was frustrated by the Portugal defense despite the odd surging run into the final third, while their best chance of the half came when Xherdan Shaqiri’s free kick was pushed out for a corner. — Reuters

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