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Bono bravery seals Atlas Lions’ beautiful day

Morocco secured a place in the FIFA World Cup (WC) quarter-finals for the first time after winning a dramatic penalty shootout 3-0 against Spain, who were sensationally dumped out in the last 16 once again.

Luis Enrique’s side dominated possession from the start, but failed to trouble Bono in the opening exchanges. In fact, the only meaningful opportunity of the opening 25 minutes came when Achraf Hakimi’s free kick sailed harmlessly over the bar. However, Walid Regragui’s side were made to sweat when two chances in quick succession fell to Gavi and Dani Olmo following some slack defending, but their blushes were spared by the assistant referee’s flag.

Morocco were more than holding their own though, and Unai Simón was forced into a save down to his right to keep out Noussair Mazraoui’s driven strike. Sofiane Boufal then worked his trickery down the left flank and picked out Nayef Aguerd, whose header went over the bar in a promising first-half performance from the Atlas Lions.

Spain attempted just one shot in the opening 45 minutes, which was their fewest in a first half of a WC game this century. And they continued struggling in the final third after the break, as Olmo’s swerving set piece was comfortably pushed to safety by Bono. In response, Enrique switched Alvaro Morata and Carlos Soler for Gavi and Marco Asensio just past the hour mark, as La Roja continued to pass the ball around with ease, but without that elusive killer touch.

Olmo had a chance to seal victory at the death, but Bono once again thwarted him, parrying away his free kick to ensure another 30 minutes of action at Education City Stadium. Sofyan Amrabat slipped Walid Cheddira through on goal in a rare opening for Regragui’s side after the restart, only to see himself intercepted by Aymeric Laporte, while Pablo Sarabia’s shot clipped the post right at the death, and penalties beckoned.

It was to be Morocco’s night though, and after Abdelhamid Sabir and Hakim Ziyech found the net, it was the Madrid-born defender Hakimi that struck the decisive penalty to ensure the North Africans prevailed 3-0 on penalties. Sarabia, Soler and Sergio Busquets all missed from the spot, and there will be huge celebrations on the streets of Rabat on a monumental evening for the Atlas Lions, while Spain’s current generation – thanks to the heroics of Bono – still haven’t found what they are looking for.

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