Morocco turned over Spain to move into the last eight for the first time. But there’s no bliss for the Swiss. They’re blitzed by a Portugal side not featuring Cristiano Ronaldo.
On Day 15, the Japanese missed three of their penalties. And Spain followed fashion in their shootout against Morocco. The Morocco goalkeeper Bono saved two of them and one hit the post. The success allowed Morocco to reach the last eight for the first time and only the the fourth side from Africa after Cameroon, Senegal and Ghana to advance to the quarter-finals. They will play Portugal on Day 21 at the Al Thumama Stadium for a place in the semis and their own line in the history books.
“They stuck to the plan,” beamed Morocco coach Walid Regragui in praise of his players after their penalty shootout victory over Spain. “I told them it would exhaust them and we held out until the penalties where we knew we had one of the best goalkeepers in the world.” In truth, Morocco had enough chances to have won well before penalties but they did not take their opportunities. “There comes a point when teams from Africa have to go for it,” Regragui added. “I’ve told the players this and told them why not win the World Cup even though it will be difficult because we’ve used a lot of energy but we’ve got heart.” Team nickname? The Atlas Lions.
All eyes on me
One of the big moments of Day 16 was whether 37-year-old record goalscorer Cristiano Ronaldo was going to figure in the Portugal side to play against Switzerland at the Lusail Stadium. Portugal coach Fernando Santos was not best pleased with Ronaldo’s reaction to being substituted during the last pool game against South Korea. Not pleased at all. Santos – in charge for the last eight years – let it be known he would decide who would wear the captain’s armband when he arrived at the stadium. And the veteran defender Pepe was anointed. Ronaldo was on the bench.
All eyes on me, please
Conspicuously reprimanded for his fit of pique, Cristiano Ronaldo had to hang with the substitutes. And take pleasure in the three goals of his replacement Goncalo Ramos on his first game in a World Cup. Skipper Pepe even scored too and so did Raphael Guerreiro before Ronaldo came on in the 74th minute. Portugal’s final goal in the 6-1 demolition of Switzerland was scored by another substitute Rafael Leao. So still no goal in the knockout stages of a World Cup for Ronaldo. But at least the Portugal fans all started cheering when he took off his tracksuit to prepare to come on.
Is this the start of the blood letting? Oliver Bierfhoff, the technical director at the German football federation has left after Germany’s latest debacle at a World Cup. Bierhoff , 54, had been in situ for 18 years but had come under fire following an exit from the group stages at back-to-back World Cups – something that hadn’t happened before to Germany. “Oliver Bierhoff has won a lot of merits for the German FA, said its chief Bernd Neuendorf. “Even if the last few tournaments lagged behind the sporting goals that had been set, he will be associated with big moments.” That last big moment came in 2014 when Die Mannschaft – as Germany are nicknaled – won the World Cup for the fourth time.