The last day of the 2022 World Cup’s round of 16 saw two intriguing ties which provided a healthy amount of drama and an abundance of storylines and narratives.
Morocco shut Spain out for two hours before beating them on penalties to reach their first-ever World Cup quarter-finals, after which Portugal smashed Switzerland for six in the absence of the number seven.
Here is the recap of all the action alongside some analysis:
Round of 16: Morocco 0-0 Spain (3-0 on penalties)
Moroccan fans were in full force at the Education City Stadium as they watched their team play just their second-ever World Cup knockout tie against none other than Spain.
It did not take a genius to predict how this match would go — possession-obsessed Spain were going to spend a lot of time trying to break down the defensively compact Morocco, which is exactly what happened as Luis Enrique’s side kept the ball.
Morocco defended inside their own half in an extremely compact 4-1-4-1 block, which especially limited the spaces available between the lines in midfield.
This worked quite well in the first half, as Spain were restricted to just one attempt whereas Morocco managed to pose a decent counter-attacking threat and had three attempts. The second half followed much the same pattern as well, so we headed for the second extra time of this World Cup.
There was not much to speak of in that period either except Pablo Sarabia’s chance in the last minute as he got on the end of a cross at the far post, but his shot grazed the outside of the woodwork and stayed out.
Morocco went first in the shoot-out and converted their first two efforts, while Pablo Sarabia, sent on specifically to take a penalty, hit the post. Yassine Bounou stole the show thereafter as he guessed right for the next three Spanish efforts and made three saves.
That meant Achraf Hakimi, a man born in Spain, had the chance to win the shoot-out for Morocco, and he did so in the coolest way possible.
This was the first time in the last eight World Cup penalty shoot-outs that the side going first won. With that, Morocco qualified for their first-ever World Cup quarter-finals, becoming the fourth African side to do so in the history of the World Cup.
Round of 16: Portugal 6-1 Switzerland
As the penalty shootout of the Morocco-Spain match was growing closer, reports began to emerge from Portugal that Cristiano Ronaldo was set to be dropped from their starting line-up against Switzerland after his negative reaction to being substituted against South Korea.
Gonçalo Ramos was the man who got his first international start as a result of that, and he took just 17 minutes to make a mark on the scoreline with a thunderous finish into the top corner at the near post.
The 21-year-old striker scored his second early on in the second half with a nice run to the near post to turn in Diogo Dalot’s low ball, and went on to become the first player to score a hat-trick at this World Cup after João Félix slipped him in behind in the 67th minute.
Ramos’ performance was clearly mightily impressive, but those who have been following Benfica this season might have half-expected it.
He also added more dynamism to Portugal’s attacking play with his constant movement in the front line, enabling his teammates to cause more damage with their midfield rotations. All in all, this was Portugal’s best performance at this tournament by some margin.
Switzerland’s puzzling switch to a 5-2-1-2 shape out of possession for the first half might have contributed to it, but there is no doubt that Fernando Santos’ side looked much better without Ronaldo up front.
Besides Ramos, Pepe got on the scoresheet for Portugal’s second as he headed home from a corner to become the oldest player to score in the knockout stage of the World Cup.
Raphaël Guerreiro got the fourth thanks to an assist from the 21-year-old striker, after which Switzerland pulled one back through Manuel Akanji. Late on, substitute Rafael Leão capped off the win with another well-taken finish, which proved to be the last goal of the match.
👀 Looking Ahead
There are no matches for the next couple of days, so we can all finally get a bit of rest.
Stats courtesy Opta via FotMob.
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