FT World Cup 2018: Morocco issues a powerful closing statement against Spain
Morocco’s elimination was guaranteed after failing to score in their opening two matches, narrowly losing 1-0 to both Iran and Portugal even though they dominated the opposition on both occasions. However, the beautiful football they play paid off against their neighbors, Spain, the acclaimed “masters of the beautiful football.” More than just the football was on display, as the referee’s decisions and VAR took center-stage.
The Lions of the Atlas opened the scoring in the 14th minute when El-Boutaib capitalized on a Sergio Ramos mistake, raced goalwards and finished it off nicely by slotting the ball between David De Gea’s legs. Five minutes later, La Roja replied. Isco leveled matters after being gifted a scoring opportunity by the dancing Iniesta who dribbled past two defenders and delivered him the assist. From this point onwards, everything seemed to have been going against the North Africans. Morocco received an astounding four yellow cards within the first half after a host of challenges and outbursts of frustration as a result of the perceived partiality of the referee. If you ask me, there may be two or three occasions where the referee made some controversial calls.
After the halftime break, Spain continued to search for an elusive win that would guarantee their qualification but homebound Morocco had other plans. They were determined to cause an upset and leave a mark on the tournament after fighting so hard in a group earmarked the “Group of Death.” Substitute Youssef En-Nesyri restored Morocco’s lead in the 81st minute with a bullet header that David De Gea could only watch fly past him into the net. The climax of the eventful night, however, came in injury time, when Iago Aspas scored a goal that was initially ruled offside before a VAR review awarded the goal making the final score, 2-2.
Spain and Portugal, who survived a late scare from Iran in their 1-1 draw against the Asians, march on from Group A into the knockout stages.