Morocco’s dream run rolls on as they send Spain crashing out of World Cup on penalties

Spain missed all three of their spot kicks as African side book spot in quarter-finals

(aet) Morocco won 3-0 on penalties

Bono and Hakimi, exiled Arabic princes, delivered against the oldest enemy Moroccans have ever known with a World Cup victory for the ages at Education City Stadium.

The last remaining African nation has knocked out Spain on penalties. From Rabat to Marrakesh, the tea cannot taste any sweeter after Achraf Hakimi closed the show with a panenka, a courageous act that will inspire Moroccan kids for generations to come.

It guarantees the beaches and souks will be aflame until Saturday’s quarter-final against Portugal at Al Thumama.

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“I don’t know how far we are going to go,” said Walid Regragui, the French-born manager. “We are trying to build momentum here in Africa. I came back to Morocco in 2013 and I have seen great improvement. His majesty the king has given us great support. Great facilities are in place now. We invested in coaching. We have trained the trainers.

“We have the Mohammed VI academy now, and when you do that, you reap the rewards.”

The 47-year-old’s compact, highly-skilled warriors are free now. With Spain vanquished, Morocco craves France in an Al Bayt semi-final and Brazil or Argentina in Lusail on December 18th, because for these precious hours, in the glow of unknown pleasure, everything feels possible.

Here’s why: Hakimi was born in Madrid to Moroccan parents, his mother Saida Mou forced to clean houses, his father Hasam a street vendor. Their 24-year-old son was already an Arabic superhero but now the whole world knows his name.

The Paris Saint-Germain defender was at the vanguard of astonishing resistance for 120 gruelling minutes against Spain.

“It’s like you play for your grandfather and their grandfathers,” said Hakimi of this squad of second-generation Moroccans.

Spain bottled the penalties, with captain Sergio Busquets the second victim of Yassine Bounou. Or just play Bono.

Bounou is a rarity in this Morocco team, having been born in Montreal, Canada, before his family returned to Casablanca where he lived until starting a 10-year career in La Liga.

Before the shoot-out Bono and Athletic Bilbao’s Unai Simon shared an embrace and words of encouragement. The Spanish netminders society remains as thick as blood.

The enormity of this Moroccan achievement became apparent when Bono walked into the media room. The place exploded in applause.

“We are happy,” smiled the Sevilla goalkeeper “Maybe as time goes on we will realise what we just achieved.”

Some of the journalists were crying. “I have no question,” says one. “You have marked Moroccan history. I have tears in my eyes, the tears of 40 million happy Moroccans. Thank you. Thank you.”

Luis Enrique had been and gone.

“Did you not watch the match?” he barked. “We dominated the game. We dominated midfield. Morocco gave a big performance defensively. But I am happy with my team. They played to my style. Morocco was better than us in the penalty shoot-out. Bono was outstanding.”

Hang on, señor. The Barcelona trio of Pedri, Gavi and Busquets dominated possession with more tippy-tappy than tiki-taka end product, while the surgical aggression of Moroccan midfielders Sofyan Amrabat and Azzedine Ounahi was devastating to behold.

“[Ounahi] never stopped running, he must be destroyed!” said Luis Enrique.“ This is sport ... that’s it, this is the end, there is no point in punishing oneself, we are out.”

The shoot-out was pure ecstasy and pure agony, depending on perspective, as Sampdoria’s Abdelhamid Sabiri and Chelsea’s Hakim Ziyech nailed spot kicks before Pablo Sarabia, who should have won it for Spain in the last second of extra-time, hit the post and Carlos Soler met Bono.

When Badr Benoun was denied by Simon, 45 million Moroccans at home and around the globe, began to die a slow death. Busquets raised their spirits before Hakimi changed the perception of North African football forever.

Walid Cheddira is a lucky man. The Serie B goal machine had two golden opportunities to win it for Morocco in extra-time but the Bari striker fluffed his lines.

From early afternoon Al Rayyan looked and sounded more like a medieval battleground than the venue for a football match between countries separated by the straits of Gibraltar, decades of friendship and centuries of conflict.

The event put Qatar’s World Cup infrastructure to its first real test; riot police, dogs and horses appeared, apparently to manage ticketless Moroccans arriving in their droves, and many people complained about dangerous situations on entry.

At this World Cup, only the South Americans can live with the Moroccans for passion and volume. Every single Spanish touch was jeered as they willed Pedri and Gavi into error.

When it comes to sporting rivalry, England and Ireland have nothing on Spain and Morocco. Spend some time in Andalucía, especially the city of Granada, and learn that these cultures are irrevocably intertwined.

The 44,667 attendance had a sprinkle of Spanish yellow in its sea of red, along with patches of white clad Qataris, who filled swathes of empty seats after kick-off. They stayed to the end this time.

Hakimi was the standout performer, but Bayern Munich full back Noussair Mazraoui led some savage Moroccan tackling and Nayef Aguerd was a colossus until wounded, at which point captain Romain Saiss filled the void, taking a yellow card in the 90th minute for dragging back Alvaro Morata.

The anonymity of Argentinian referee Fernando Rapallini added to the occasion. Soane Boufal was razor sharp, bamboozling Marcos Llorente down the right, but Ziyech struggled to outshine Pedri.

At least he nailed his penalty.

“Hakim is like Neymar in Brazil and Mbappé in France, he’s our top player and he needs to be treated differently,” Regragui concluded. “He is not just any other player, and that’s why I treat him differently. With love.

“You can’t forget the other players, I know this, I show them love too but Ziyech is special.”

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent