Morocco Are Africa’s Last Hope

Morocco carry the hopes of a continent when they take on 2010 winners Spain in their World Cup last 16 clash on Tuesday evening.

They are Africa’s last remaining representative in Qatar, but perhaps also the team best equipped to go deep into the competition. It will be no easy feat against a youthful but talented Spain.

Here are five talking points ahead of the fixture.

HATTRICK FOR MOROCCO?

It was Morocco’s best group stage ever as they claimed seven points from their three pool games, and they are now chasing an unprecedented third successive victory at the World Cup. They are riding the crest of a wave and look a team full of confidence under new coach Walid Regragui, who has put the smiles back on the faces of the players. They have only been to this stage once before, when they lost 1-0 to West Germany in 1986. On that occasion they topped a pool that included England, Portugal and Poland! None of the current squad were born yet.

INSIGHT

Morocco goalkeeper Yassine Bounou and striker Youssef En-Nesyri are at Sevilla, defender Jawad El Yamiq is with Valladolid and forward Abde Ezzalzouli plays for Osasuna. That might give the North Africans some insight into the Spanish team. That being said, it was only four years ago that these sides met at the World Cup in Russia, where the group stage clash finished 2-2, so they will not be totally unfamiliar with each other.

FAMILIAR FACE

Argentine Fernando Rapallini will be in charge of the last 16 clash and he will be a familiar face to the Moroccans. He blew the whistle in their 0-0 group stages draw with Croatia just last week, so they will have a feel for his style and therefore possibly a slight advantage over the Spanish. Having said that, the fact he is a Spanish speaker will mean he has better communication with the European side.

PENALTIES …

Morocco have never been involved in a World Cup penalty shootout – or even had a game go to extra-time. So this would be new territory for them were it to happen against Spain. The latter have certainly had their fair share, though they have been on the wrong end of a lot of shoot-out misery. They have won only one of their previous four ties that have gone to post-match spot-kicks.

LAST 16

Spain also have a mixed record in the last 16, having reached this stage of a World Cup on seven previous occasions and won four. Their last victory was against Portugal in 2010 when they went on to lift the trophy. They also reached this stage in Russia four years ago, but lost on penalties to the hosts.