With the joint highest points gained from the group stage, the champions of Group F, Morocco, are set to face Spain, the runner-ups of Group E, in their Round of 16 match at the Education City Stadium in Doha on Tuesday.
Morocco will be featuring in their second-ever knockout game in the World Cups as they had only qualified for the Round of 16 once before in 1986, where they were knocked out by Germany. Now, with a side full of quality players, Morocco can hope to overcome their World Cup records and reach the quarter-final for the first time.
Morocco is currently on an eight-match unbeaten streak throughout all competitions and is on the verge of breaking the run of unbeaten record for an African nation currently held by Cameroon, who were unbeaten for five matches from 1982 to 1990. Morocco are now unbeaten for four games in the World Cup finals.
Drawing in the same group as Belgium and Croatia, not many would have put their bets on the Moroccan side to top the group, but with Belgium’s golden generation being placid and hopeless and Croatia struggling to find a consistent finisher up front, Morocco triumphed to the top of the group. Beating Belgium 2-0 and drawing 0-0 with Croatia, just a draw in the final match against Canada would see them in the last 16, but they took all three points available.
Ahead of the game, Morocco coach Walid Regragui said that his team would go at full throttle against the Spanish.
“We’ve had one extra rest day compared to them and we’re going to try and pull a surprise out of the bag. If we’re able to send Spain packing, I think this will be a wonderful surprise not only for us but for our country,” he said.
Spain, on the other hand, comes from the group of death with four points matched with the Germans, but their huge goal difference saved them. It was due to Germany’s lower ranking that the two European giants were drawn into the same group, and in the end, the two evenly matched powerhouses finished the group stages with the same points each. In the final matchday of group E, Spain needed only one point to qualify for the next round, while a loss held the threat of being eliminated losing the second spot to Germany had they put the ball 7 times in the Costa Rican goal.
In the dramatic matchday, Japan triumphed to the top spot of the group as they beat both Spain and four-time world champion Germany.
This will be the second time the two nations face each other in the World Cup. The first one came in the last World Cup, where the clash ended in a 2-2 draw thanks to Spanish forward Iago Aspas’ last-minute equalizer.