Morocco slips into World Cup quarters on penalties

DOHA, 7 Dec 2022:

Morocco beat Spain on penalties after a goalless draw at Education City Stadium to reach the quarterfinals of the World Cup for the first time in their history.

Achraf Hakimi, born and raised in Spain, scored the winning penalty with a nonchalant panenka to give Morocco a win their physicality, dynamism and direct approach deserved.

Spain, as expected, dominated possession but rarely troubled the Moroccan back line, and ended the match with their players standing in stunned silence in the centre circle while Morocco’s players and coaching staff wildly celebrated their historic victory.

In fact, it was the North African side, backed by a heavily one-sided crowd, who created the clearer chances throughout a hard-fought 0-0 stalemate.

Next up for Morocco on Saturday in the quarterfinals will be Portugal – who demolished Switzerland 6-1, thanks in large part to a game for the ages by rising star Gonçalo Ramos, who scored a hat trick in his first international start.

The Iberians produced one of their greatest triumphs on the global stage despite playing most of the game – and scoring all but one of their goals – with veteran talisman Cristiano Ronaldo on the bench at Lusail Iconic Stadium.

Not including dead rubbers, it marked the first time that Ronaldo was not in the starting line-up for Portugal in a major competition since a match against Russia in Euro 2004.

Portugal, however, showed their pool of talent runs far deeper than one man – with Joao Felix, Bernardo Silva, Bruno Fernandes, William Carvalho and Otavio all playing at a supremely high level.

But the 21-year-old Ramos was the biggest story of all, opening the scoring and his World Cup account in the 17th minute with a shot from a tight angle that beat Swiss goalie Yann Sommer at the near post.

Veteran defender Pepe, 39, then scored a memorable goal of his own, powering home a header off a corner kick in the 33rd minute to become the oldest player in the history of the World Cup to score in the knockout phase.

Portugal already had one foot in the quarterfinals at that juncture, and the margin could have been even bigger at halftime given the numerous chances Silva, Otavio, Fernandes and Felix created against Switzerland’s overmatched midfield and defence.

After the break, shortly after the Portuguese fans had wildly cheered the sight of Ronaldo warming up on the sidelines, Ramos made the score 3-0 in the 51st minute by getting on the other end of a cross by Diogo Dalot and flicking a shot past Sommer and into the back of the net.

Then with the crowd still celebrating, defender Raphael Guerreiro received a pass from Ramos and slammed a shot into the roof the goal in the 55th minute.

The game was far out of reach at that point at 4-0, but three more goals were still to come.

First, Switzerland salvaged a bit of pride when defender Manuel Akanji scored on a volley off a free kick in minute 58.

Ramos then continued to write his remarkable story by scoring yet again in the 67th minute, when he received a pass from Felix and chipped over an onrushing Sommer.

Ronaldo finally entered the game in the 74th minute to thunderous applause and later found the back of the net, although he was a few meters offside and the goal was disallowed.

But another substitute, Rafael Leao, who had come on in minute 87, made the final score 6-1 with a sublime strike from the left edge of the area during stoppage time.