World Cup: Morocco ready to roar and add Spain to World Cup casualties

The memory of four years ago is still fresh in Moroccan minds. In Kaliningrad in 2018 late drama saw the Atlas Lions knocked out of the World Cup in the groupstage with debatable VAR decisions and lady luck not falling on their side. Morocco's opponents that day were Spain, who benefitted from their own 91st-minute goal and an Iranian penalty elsewhere to secure progression.

For Morocco it rankled, with Nordin Amrabat proclaiming: “VAR is bullshit” after the game. Aziz Bouhaddouz said: “We’ve had no luck. We’ve played amazingly.” Morocco were hard done by then and will seek an element of revenge when they face Spain again at this world cup: a last-16 meeting at the Education City stadium on Tuesday.

Walid Regragui has warned Spain that his team will “come out swinging” in a bid to pull off another huge World Cup upset. The chances of Morocco eliminating Spain are fairly low but have already built a catalogue of impressive results in this tournament, defeating Belgium 2-0 and drawing with Croatia on their way to becoming Group F winners.

We will come in with a winner’s attitude, we will come out swinging,” said Regragui, whose side are the last African team in the competition and will enjoy the majority of the support in the stadium.

Morocco defeated Belgium and knocked them out in the group stages (Getty)

We want to hoist our Moroccan flag way up high, first and foremost for us and our country and yes, for all Arabs and Africans — we want to make them happy. We want their prayers and we want their support.

“Spain have a lot of experience, we haven’t been here for 36 years. It’s important for us to put our emotions aside and pull out all the stops. The great nations are here and it’s important for us to give them a run for their money.

“We’ve got 24 hours to prepare and make history. It’s worth a shot. We’re going to give it our all and we don’t want to leave with any regrets.”

'Talk of inexperience is wrong'

Morocco may bring the noise but Spain will certainly supply the passes. Luis Enrique gave his team a B+ for their performance at the World Cup so far, with the exception of 15 minutes against Japan where he said they had been “steamrollered”. Japan caused an upset by defeating Spain 2-1 in the final group game which left Enrique’s team in second place.

Since the defeat, Spain have been accused of enjoying possession for possession’s sake and failing to make the most of the 82 per cent they amassed against the Samurai Blue. Enrique rejected the notion that it illustrated Spain were too rigid and unwilling to play in a more direct way when necessary.

I think there is clear misinformation in the world of football,” he said. “What’s clear is that everyone uses their own weapons. You tell us, when should we go for the long ball? When we know we’re going to lose? No, that doesn’t work in football.

“We do not rule out any action. If we have a situation and we go for a long ball, that’s totally fine. That is something that needs to be interpreted by the footballer on the pitch. Any play is open, any action is open. It’s too basic an analysis — I don’t share it, I don’t like it. We will continue playing from the back as we’ve always done.”

Enrique said he would grade his team's performances as B+ so far (Getty)

The thrill that came from Spain’s 7-0 thrashing of Costa Rica in their opening match has been tempered by the Japan defeat and 1-1 draw with Germany in between. But the Spain head coach has dismissed their turn of form is down to a lack of experience among the players.

Enrique — a notably stubborn coach — will likely revert to the lineup that started against Germany, which had an average age of 26yrs and 6mths. Put to him that his players had given inexperience as a reason for dropping points against Germany, Enrique added: “We have to try to get rid of these myths and cliches in my opinion.

“First of all I don’t believe [the players] said that – they lacked experience in what? Being builders, carpenters? When you lose people talk about physical issues, when they win, they don’t. I don’t share this analysis.”

The Spain coach also revealed he had told his players over a year ago they needed to practice taking at least 1,000 penalties with their clubs in preparation for any possible shoot-outs in Qatar. “I don’t think it’s a lottery, it doesn’t just depend on luck,” he added.

It’s the moment of the highest pressure, you have to show skill and take the penalty. Obviously you cannot train the pressure and the tension, but it’s manageable, you can cope with that pressure and those key moments say a lot about a player. It doesn’t really depend on luck.”