Drama in Qatar: Heartbreak for some, triumph for others as the quarterfinals are set

Stefan Luciani
FiredUp Network Sports Writer


Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Morocco stunned the world on the final day of the round of 16 matchups as they join Portugal and the rest of the remaining squads in the quarterfinals from Doha

DOHA – It’s days like today that remind fans and players alike, what sports are truly about. 


In the round of 16 now, international teams are inching that much closer to that ever-elusive World Cup trophy – that much closer to solidifying their place in eternal sports history. 


The final two matches of the round of 16 were looked at as throw away games. The Portuguese were taking on a Swiss team that, despite a strong showing in the group play, surely were going to be no match for the great Cristiano Ronaldo and the Portuguese superstars. 


And the assumption couldn’t have been more right. 


Portugal overwhelmed their Swiss counterparts from kickoff, to the full-time whistle scoring a whopping six goals to book their spot in the quarterfinals. 


The news coming into this one though was that of Cristiano Ronaldo starting the match on the bench. It was a bit of a surprise for many amid the tumultuous times that Ronaldo has endured with his club career this year, and more specifically over the past couple of weeks. 


But no Ronaldo? No problem as Goncalo Ramos led the way with a hat-trick. Pepe scored in the 33rd minute, Raphael Guerreiro added one in the 55th, and if that wasn’t enough, Rafael Leao sprinkled some salt on the wound in stoppage time. 


The Swiss were able to find twine once in the contest with Manual Akanji beating Diogo Costa in the 58th minute, but the damage had already been done as the Swiss team will take an early flight home. 


Coming into the day, many would have wagered money on the quarter final matchup being Portugal and Spain for a classic European showdown. But first, Spain needed to get past Morocco.


This was another contest that many weren’t paying too much attention to. The Moroccans had made some noise with their group stage play, drawing with Croatia and beating Belgium. 


But Croatia looked off that day, and we saw what the Canadians did to Belgium. They can’t keep up anymore right? Surely Morocco isn’t for real. 


Well surely, they are. 


Spain completely outplayed Morocco on every front. They held 77% possession to Morocco’s 23%. They outshot Morocco 13-6 and completed an astonishing 1019 passes at 90% accuracy with Morroc completing only 305 at 70%. 


Yet the Moroccans did what they had to do. They settled back, and clogged up the box, allowing the Spaniards to play keep away as they pressed for any opportunity they had which turned out to be far too few. Once the full 90 had been completed it was clear Morocco had one plan – hold them off long enough to get to penalty kicks to even the playing field. 


The Moroccans were able to do so, putting the game within reach for both. 


Abdelhamid Sabiri was first to go for the Moroccan side and tucked one past Spanish keeper Unai Simón for the early upperhand. But there was a sense of shock in the crowd when Pablo Sarabia sent his first shot off the right hand post. Things began to look grim for Spain when Hakim Ziyech sent a rocket straight down the middle for Morocco’s second conversion of the penalties. Carlos Soler and Sergio Busquet were both stopped with incredible saves from Moroccan keeper Yassine Bounou, with Spain’s fate lying in the hands of Madrid-born Achraf Hakimi. The PSG right-back finessed a slow roller down the right side for the nail in the coffin as Morocco completed the upset to send the 2010 World Cup Champions packing. 


With the victory, the quarterfinal matchups are now set. 


Croatia will have their hands full as they will take on the tournament favourites in the form of Brazil on Friday morning. This will be followed up with a contest between the Netherlands and Argentina who play later on that day. The final two quarterfinal matchups will take place on Saturday with Morocco playing Portugal in the morning, before England and France square off in the afternoon.