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Atlas Lions Roar Into Quarterfinals


Moroccan players lift Yassine Bounou who made several saves that led to the North African nation progressing to the World Cup quarterfinals in Al Rayyan, Qatar, Dec. 6, 2022.

African football fans around the world celebrated Tuesday after Morocco’s Atlas Lions made history by defeating Spain 3-0 in a penalty shootout, securing a spot in the quarterfinals of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

Moroccan Goalkeeper Yassine Bounou Tuesday was praised by fans for his stellar performance that helped the Atlas Lions emerge victorious against Spain in Qatar.

The North African team knocked the Spanish out of the 2022 FIFA World Cup through a penalty shootout that ended with a 3-0 score line after both teams failed to score into extra time.

Bounou stopped Spain from scoring several times during 120 minutes of play, but football experts say the 31-year-old goalkeeper will mainly be remembered for the saved spot-kicks against Carlos Soler and Sergio Busquets.

Morocco's goalkeeper Yassine Bounou deflects a penalty kick by Spanish midfielder Carlos Soler during the penalty shootout of their knockout round of 16 2022 FIFA World Cup clash at the Education City Stadium in Al-Rayyan, west of Doha on Dec. 6, 2022.
Morocco's goalkeeper Yassine Bounou deflects a penalty kick by Spanish midfielder Carlos Soler during the penalty shootout of their knockout round of 16 2022 FIFA World Cup clash at the Education City Stadium in Al-Rayyan, west of Doha on Dec. 6, 2022.

Victory by the Moroccans made them the fourth African nation in the history of the FIFA World Cup to qualify for the quarterfinals.

The last time an African nation made it to the last eight of the global tournament was in 2010 when Ghana crashed out after losing to Uruguay in a controversial match that was settled through a penalty shootout.

Tuesday's match marked the fourth time that Spain was knocked out through penalties and the second in a row.

Despite their 3-0 penalty shootout loss, the Spanish team held the ball for a majority 63% ball possession, had 14 attempts at goal and two shots on target.

The North Africans had a minority 20% ball possession – 17% was in contest – six attempts at goal and three shots on target.

Luis Enrique, Spain's coach, hugs his player Alvaro Morata after they were eliminated out of the 2022 FIFA World Cup by Morocco through a penalty shootout in Al Rayyan, Qatar, Dec. 6, 2022.
Luis Enrique, Spain's coach, hugs his player Alvaro Morata after they were eliminated out of the 2022 FIFA World Cup by Morocco through a penalty shootout in Al Rayyan, Qatar, Dec. 6, 2022.

Luis Enrique, Spain’s head coach, described their loss as unfortunate and emphasized that his team “completely dominated the match.”

“It’s the most difficult thing playing against a team like Morocco who are hard workers,” Enrique said.

“The penalties cost us, but I am very proud of the team and is very sorry about the result, but I also congratulate Morocco,” he added.

Jawad El Yamiq, Morocco’s center-back who came on as a substitute in their knockout clash, expressed pride in his team’s performance.

Morocco's Jawad El Yamiq celebrates after qualifying for the quarterfinals of the 2022 FIFA World Cup after the Atlas Lions defeated Spain in Al Rayyan, Qatar, Dec. 6, 2022.
Morocco's Jawad El Yamiq celebrates after qualifying for the quarterfinals of the 2022 FIFA World Cup after the Atlas Lions defeated Spain in Al Rayyan, Qatar, Dec. 6, 2022.

“We honored Arab, African football and coach Regragui gave us the needed confidence to boost morale,” El Yamiq said.

“We knew that Spain would depend on their ball possession, so we played with that in mind, and they didn’t impose any danger,” he added.

Portugal, which crushed Switzerland 6–1 in the round of 16, will face Morocco on Dec. 10.

A victory for Morocco over Portugal would be an impressive achievement, but it could also lead to 37-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo hanging up his boots without a World Cup win.

Some of the information in this report came from Reuters.

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