Morocco are in dreamland and in the quarter-finals of the World Cup after a historic 3-0 penalty shootout victory over Spain on Tuesday after 120 minutes ended 0-0.
It is by some distance the greatest result in Morocco’s history, and the Arab world now has a team in the last eight for the first time ever. And now who knows how far they can go?
Achraf Hakimi scored the crucial spot kick to light the touch-paper in an already febrile Education City Stadium.
With Senegal, the US, Australia, Japan and South Korea falling by the wayside earlier in the second round, Morocco were not just the last Arab hope but the only team left at Qatar 2022 not from the traditional power centers of Europe and South America.
There was plenty of support for the team from all around the world and how they delivered against a genuine powerhouse.
Spain were still regarded as clear favorites despite collecting just four points from their group, three less than the Arab record notched up by the Atlas Lions, who finished top of Group F above Croatia, Belgium and Canada.
Such is the pedigree of a nation that lifted the trophy just 12 years ago, and it is that level that Morocco are aiming for. They are not far away as this victory proves.
Whatever the result at the end of the 90 or 120 minutes, Morocco are now a team to be reckoned with and not an opponent to be under-rated.
The same goes for their fans. Once again, it was a sea of red that produced waves of noise that crashed around Education City Stadium. As much as the team, the Moroccan fans have really made their presence felt at the World Cup. The support has been monumental from the start.
From offset, they roared their heroes into every tackle and every run. When Sofiane Boufal danced down the left midway through the first half, you could have closed your eyes and felt like you were in Rabat, Fez or Agadir.
Spain were dangerous, however, and capable of breaking free at any time.
Before the game, Morocco had conceded just one goal in seven under Walid Regragui and that was an own goal against Canada in the final group game.
This was their toughest test by far and, if there was to be any chance of going through, the defense had to hold firm. With Spain enjoying the lion’s share of possession, the Moroccan players had to stay focused and they did, allowing just one shot in the first half.
Nasser Mazraoui has improved with every game, and the Bayern Munich star forced a good save out of the Spanish number one just after the half-hour. With Hakim Ziyech and Achraf Hakimi combining well down the right and the opposition looking smooth in the middle, it was a fascinating clash.
Just before the break, Morocco had the chance of the half with Boufal enjoying a free header that was missed.
The second half continued in a similar fashion though as the minutes ticked by, Spain had more of the ball (80 percent after 90 minutes) but were still struggling to create chances with Morocco defending well and looking to hit on the counter.
Even with 20 minutes remaining, the shadow of a longer game was looming large, though both teams had chances. Spain almost snatched a goal in the final seconds of normal time.
Morocco had their best period of the match early in extra time. The game was on a knife-edge with the Arab team continuing to defend magnificently.
If extra time seemed inevitable, penalties did not. Both teams had chances to win in the final half hour with Spain hitting the post with virtually the last kick of the game.
The first kick of the shootout was converted by Abdelhamid Sabiri and when Pablo Sarabia hit the post, a whole nation started to believe. Ziyech made it 2-0, then Carlos Soler saw his kick saved and the roof was being raised.
Badr Benoun failed to convert but it didn’t matter when Sergio Busquets became the third Spaniard to miss. Up stepped Hakimi and the rest is history.