By Can Erozden
ANKARA (AA) – Among the eight quarterfinalists in the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Morocco are spending a fantastic tournament, but in the next days, people will see if the Atlas Lions can go on their thrilling performance or not.
Morocco, who have never gone beyond the last 16 before the Qatar 2022, qualified for the quarterfinals for the first time in history after eliminating former champions Spain on penalties on Tuesday.
The Atlas Lions played in the FIFA World Cup on six occasions in 1970, 1986, 1994, 1998, 2018, and 2022.
Before the 2022 World Cup, Morocco did their best in 1986. The African team were eliminated in the Round of 16 by West Germany 1-0.
But in Qatar, Morocco are named the dark horses of the tournament for their performance.
Led by Paris Saint-Germain right back Achraf Hakimi, Morocco became the first African team to win a World Cup group in the 21st century.
Morocco won Group F with seven points as they battled tough opponents such as Croatia, Belgium and Canada.
Belgium and Croatia have been among the intimidating teams for having many skillful players and their achievements in the previous World Cup in Russia.
Both nations had a splendid World Cup tournament in 2018 as Belgium bagged a bronze medal, while Croatia, who were not among the favorites, returned home with a silver medal.
In Qatar, Morocco and Croatia were the best two teams in 2022 World Cup Group F to be in the Round of 16.
But in December, Belgium upset their fans after facing a shocking group stage elimination.
Moroccans drew with Croatia 0-0 in their Group F opener, then stunned Belgium 2-0, and they last beat Canada 2-1 to secure the top spot in the group.
So the Atlas Lions paired with Group E runners-up Spain in the last 16 in the Qatar 2022 World Cup.
Spain barely made the Round of 16, surviving in their group on goal average. They lost to Group E winners Japan 2-1 in their final group match, risking their knockout stage chances.
In the last 16 stage, Morocco met Spain on Tuesday to eliminate the 2010 champions, and reached the quarterfinals after beating Spain 3-0 on penalties.
The regular time and extra time ended 0-0 in Doha.
Abdelhamid Sabiri, Hakim Ziyech, and Hakimi converted their spot kicks against Spain during the penalty shootout. Badr Benoun missed his penalty for the Atlas Lions.
Spain's Pablo Sarabia, Carlos Soler, and Sergio Busquets failed to convert from the penalty spot.
Soler and Busquets' shots were saved by Moroccan goalkeeper Yassine Bounou, while Sarabia hit the goalpost during the penalty shootout.
Finally Hakimi scored a stylish penalty to take his team to the last eight for the first time.
In the next fixture in the Qatar 2022, Morocco, who are managed by Walid Regragui, will face Portugal on Saturday.
On Tuesday, Portugal hammered Switzerland 6-1 to bag a quarterfinals ticket.
- 4th African team to reach last 8
In the World Cup history, Morocco became the fourth team from the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to play in the quarterfinals.
Cameroon (1990), Senegal (2002) and Ghana (2010) previously reached World Cup quarterfinals, which is still Africa's best performance to date.
England halted Cameroon 3-2 in the 1990 quarterfinals.
Türkiye, who were among the 2002 World Cup dark horses, eliminated Senegal 1-0 in quarterfinals on a golden goal rule, previously a type of sudden death in football matches.
In the South Africa 2010 quarterfinals, Ghana were dramatically eliminated by Uruguay in a penalty shootout after a 1-1 draw.
- Mazraoui, Hakimi, Ziyech
Noussair Mazraoui (Bayern Munich), Hakimi (Paris Saint-Germain) and Ziyech (Chelsea) are the main pillars of Morocco.
In addition to these players, Nayef Aguerd (West Ham United), Romain Saiss (Besiktas), goalkeeper Bounou (Sevilla), and Youssef En Nesyri (Sevilla) are the other important players of the team.
In the 2022 World Cup, Morocco scored four goals; two against Belgium and the rest two were against Canada.
Zakaria Aboukhlal, Saiss, En Nesyri, and Ziyech were the scorers for Morocco.
However, Aguerd scored an own goal in the match against Canada, which is still the only goal that Morocco conceded in this winter's World Cup.
The quarterfinals stage in Qatar will begin on Friday.
The semifinals will be held next week. The 2022 final will be played on Dec. 18, a day after the third-place playoff.