This game was what I thought it would be. Spain with its customary possession and Morocco using its lightning fast counter-attack. These two elements made for a highly entertaining, back and forth game, easily one of the most exciting first halves of the entire tournament. The fans’ constant whistling, present mostly when Arab teams have played, provided an eerie soundtrack to the game, one that got scarier every time Spain had the ball for long stretches of time, and then, for the briefest moments it took for the Moroccans to race down the field, one that transformed and erupted into all out cheering.
Back and forth this went.
Spain’s best chance came early in the half when Gavi’s shot was deflected and hit the post but it wouldn’t have counted since it was offside. Ascensio’s shot in the 26th minute that went just wide was the only shot that Spain attempted in the first half, a record low in this tournament for La Furia.
Gavi’s four fouls was very indicative of the frenetic style that Morocco play with. Even though Spain had their customary lion’s share of possession (72% to 18%), Morocco also generated many dangerous chances on goal. In a weird way, one would think that this style would benefit the Spaniards since it opens up the the field rather than constricting. There’s nothing more frustrating to see than Spain pinging the ball all around the place inside of a 35 yard space and not be able to score. This tactic, colloquially known as ‘parking the bus’, has at many times frustrated Spain: all that possession and no end result.
Early in the second half, Spain substituted out Asensio and Gavi in favor of Morata and Soler.
Morocco countered with changes of their own, taking out Bouef and En Nazri. Morocco switched to a back 5 in what appeared to be conceding even more of the ball. What proved to be most beneficial to the Moroccans was their ability to recover so quickly on defense, denying in the process any clear breakaways that you would have expected Spain to capitalize on. In the 91st, Morata had a wide open header on the second post but missed it badly.
The game continued its frenetic pace into the overtime with Spain attacking in waves with subs Balde and Ansu Fati leading the way, but it was Unai Simon with a stunning save off of Ziyech’s point-blank shot from only 10 yards out that saved the day. Spain had chances but could never score.
Morocco won the PK shootout 3-0. Morocco’s keeper Yassine Bounou, who had been amazing throughout the whole match, shined again.
Achraf Hakimi had the final dagger on a low Panenka kick. Panenka’s are always daring but this one less so due to the horrific kicking from Spain.