AL RAYYAN, Qatar – Morocco defender Jawad El Yamiq said his team was “honoring Arab and African football” after beating Spain 3-0 in a penalty shootout in Tuesday’s World Cup round of 16, which ended goalless after extra time.
With the result, Morocco became the first Arab country and the fourth from Africa to reach the quarterfinals of the competition – surpassing the Atlas Lions’ previous best-ever finish by exiting the round of 16 in Mexico 1986.
– Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga, more (US)
“We honored Arab and African football. Coach [Walid] Regragui gave us the confidence we needed in this game, a big boost to morale,” El Yamiq told beIN Sports .
“We knew that Spain depended on their possession and we played with that. They were not a threat at all.”
The Moroccans played only their second knockout match at a World Cup, an event held in the Middle East for the first time in its nearly 100-year history.
“This is a special moment for all of Africa, for all Arab countries, for all Muslims around the world,” said Moroccan midfielder Azzedine Ounahi. “You try to make them happy, try to make yourself happy. And I think that’s going pretty well.”
The World Cup in Qatar is the first to be played in the Arab world and only the second to be held in Asia. The tournament began with one of the biggest upsets in history as Saudi Arabia defeated two-time champions Argentina on the third matchday.
The Saudis, like hosts Qatar and Tunisia, were eliminated in the group stage. As a result, Morocco remained the standard bearer of the Arab world.
“I am very proud of my fans, of my people and Arab people,” said Regragui, who is the first African to coach an African team to the quarter-finals.
“Also because I think you have Qatari people here, maybe Algerian people, Tunisian people, Arab people and African people.”
In front of a packed crowd of 44,667 people at the Education City Stadium, most of whom were for Morocco, the Atlas Lions frustrated one of the tournament’s favorites for 120 minutes.
Once in the shootout, goalkeeper Yassine Bounou was the hero with two saves that helped Morocco to a historic victory.
“There’s a bit of feeling, luck, there’s not much you can really say about it,” Bounou, who plays for Spanish club Sevilla, said of his strategy in the post-match press conference.
“You know what punishments are like, it’s just one of those things.”
– World Cup knockout bracket, results and fixtures
However, coach Regragui was full of praise for his veteran goalkeeper, as Spain became only the second team in World Cup history not to score in a penalty shootout.
“When you have a goalkeeper like us, you have every chance to continue, even if it is a risk to go through penalties,” he said.
The coach and his players also paid tribute to the supporters who roared at them for more than two hours.
“We knew we had tremendous support behind us and we are drawing on that energy tonight,” said Regragui.
Winger Sofiane Boufal added: “Morocco’s fans are the best in this tournament. They give us so much power. They are our 12th man.”
Morocco entered Tuesday’s knockout match after finishing ahead of 2018 finalists Croatia and semi-finalists Belgium at the top of Group F, while Spain finished second behind Japan in Group E.
The meeting marked the teams’ second consecutive World Cup encounter before drawing 2–2 in the group stage of the 2018 tournament.
Morocco now has a five-game unbeaten run in World Cup matches, breaking a four-match record for the country in the 1970 and 1986 editions.
Spain have now failed to reach the quarter-finals in four of their last five World Cup appearances, the only exception being when they won the tournament in 2010.
This report uses information from the Associated Press.