KEIR RADNEDGE in DOHA: Morocco reached the last eight of the World Cup after the most dire excuse for a game of football seen in the 2022 finals.

The Atlas Lions – last African and Arab survivors – stumbled through against Spain 3-0 on penalties after a gruelling and goalless extra-time draw but it was their magnificent fans who did all the roaring. The two teams played like mice.

The scenario was a team who were not interested in scoring (Morocco) against a team who did not know how to score (Spain). Only a handful of chances in the entire blank 120 minutes did not derive from a set piece.

In the end Spain paid the identical penalty of attacking impotence which cost them elimination at the same stage from the World Cup in Moscow four years ago. Only differences were that the venue this time was Education City, the match ended 1-1 and the shootout margin to Russia had been 4-3.

At least Spain stood up in the penalties back then.

This time their shooters lost their nerves in front of the raucously raging wall of green and red behind Yassine Bono’s goal. Pablo Sarabia, brought on especially for the shootout, hit a post then Carlos Soler and captain Sergio Busquets had weak efforts saved by the Moroccan keeper-hero.

The giant screen showed Busquets, one of Spain’s most experienced and successful players of all time, glancing up at the source of the wall of sound before he took his kick. The expression on his face said it all.

Single save

Spain keeper Unai Simon did stop one Moroccan kick, from Badr Benoun, but Abdelhamid Sabiri, Hakim Ziyech and Achraf Hakim easily put away the others. Hakim’s moment of triumph was appropriate. He had been head and shoulders above every other individual on the pitch.

Morocco’s game plan had been simple and predictable enough surely for Spain coach Luis Enrique to fathom. They ran and tackled and hassled like dervishes in two defensive lines of five and four with no breathing space for any Spaniard inbetween.

Spain did attempt to go down the wings but Ferran Torres and then Inaki Williams on the right as well as Dani Olmo on the left were quickly closed down. In the centre Marco Asensio was not so much a false as an invisible No9 and his orthodox substitute Alvaro Morata was no improvement.

The first half saw Hakim too high with an 11th-minute free kick, Noussair Mazraoui draw a diving save from Simon and Nayef Aguerd head over the bar from close range. The only meaningful Spanish reply was a shot from Asensio into the side net.

Spain created the only two moments of danger in the second half. Olmo had a 54th-minute drive flapped out by Bono and the goalkeeper pushed away a Jordi Alba free kick for a corner in stoppage time. The only threat to either goal in extra time was a breakaway raid by Walid Cheddira halted by Simon.

Not that it mattered in the end as Morocco became the fourth African side to reach the quarter-finals after Cameroon (1990), Senegal (2002) and Ghana (2010). By contrast Spain were the first team to lose four World Cup shootouts.