Doha, Dec. 6: Morocco coach Walid Regragui has urged his team to believe they can defeat powerhouse Spain as they attempt to reach a first World Cup quarter-final.
The north African side are in the last 16 for only the second time after advancing as winners of Group F ahead of 2018 runners-up Croatia, having defeated Belgium and Canada in Qatar.
“It will be a very testing game for us. We’re coming up against one of the best footballing nations in the world. I think they’re one of the favourites to reach the final,” Regragui said on Monday.
“That said, we’ve also got things up our sleeve. We’ve had one extra rest day compared to them and we’re going to try and pull a surprise out of the bag.
“If we’re able to send Spain packing I think this will be a wonderful surprise not only for us but for our country.”
Spain denied Morocco a famous win at the 2018 World Cup with a last-gasp equaliser in a 2-2 draw, the only point the Moroccans picked up in Russia.
“We’re not seeking revenge at all. We’re not looking at what happened in the past,” said Regragui, who was appointed in August.
Morocco, the lone Arab nation and the last African team remaining in Qatar, will have the vocal backing of thousands of fans for Tuesday’s game at Education City Stadium.
“We’ll come out swinging. We want to hoist the Moroccan flag way up high. We’re playing first and foremost for us and our country,” said Regragui.
“All Arabs and Africans, we want to make them happy. We want their prayers and we want their support so it can give us that extra ingredient to win. Before it was just the Moroccans that supported us.”
Morocco would become just the fourth African team to reach the quarter-finals -- after Cameroon in 1990, Senegal in 2002 and Ghana in 2010 -- if they beat the 2010 champions.
Morocco’s only other appearance in the last 16 came in 1986, when they lost 1-0 to eventual runners-up West Germany.
‘Homework’ of 1,000 penalties
Spain coach Luis Enrique set each of his players the “homework” of practising 1,000 penalties ahead of the World Cup, saying he is convinced they are not a lottery.
The 2010 world champions face Morocco with the threat of extra-time and penalties looming in the knockout phase of the tournament in Qatar.
Spain beat Switzerland on penalties at last year’s Euro 2020 but were eliminated on spot-kicks by Italy in the semi-finals.
“Over a year ago, in one of the Spain camps, I told them they had to get here with at least 1,000 penalties taken,” Enrique said on Monday.
“I imagine that they have done their homework. If you wait until getting here to practise penalties... (it won’t be enough).
The Spaniard insisted spot kicks were “not a lottery”. “It’s a moment of maximum tension, a time to show your nerve, and that you can shoot the penalty in the way you have decided, if you have trained it a thousand times,” he said.
“It says a lot about each player. It’s trainable, manageable, how you manage the tension. It’s increasingly less luck -- the goalkeepers have more influence.
“We have a very good goalkeeper, any of the three can do very well in this situation. Every time we finish training I see a lot of players taking penalties.”
The Spain coach also responded to criticism over the team’s style of play -- their commitment to playing out from defence sometimes puts them under pressure in dangerous areas. (AFP)