Morocco vs Spain Prediction
6th December 2022
18:00 Qatar Time/15:00 GMT
Education City Stadium, Al Rayyan
Referee: Fernando Rapallini (Argentina)
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Morocco vs Spain Prediction Match Overview
Morocco vs Spain, the penultimate round of 16 clash, will determine who earns the right to face the winners of Portugal vs Switzerland in the quarter-finals. Morocco were the surprise winners of what looked to be a very competitive Group F. They first played out a drab goalless draw with Croatia. However, their second game against Belgium was one for the history books, as Morocco won only their third-ever World Cup match. Defender Roman Saiss scored in the 73rd minute, and then substitute Zakaria Aboukhlal sealed the victory in stoppage time. Needing only a point against already-eliminated Canada to secure qualification, Morocco fell behind. They conceded their first goal of the tournament to the first own goal of the tournament in Nayef Aguerd. However, they recovered within 25 minutes through goals by Hakim Ziyech and Youssef En-Nesyri to claim victory and resultantly win the group.
Spain started very strongly in Group E, putting in a commanding display as they hammed Costa Rica 7-0. The second match against Germany was the only matchup between two former world champions in the entire group stage. Spain took the lead in the second half through Alvaro Morata, but Niclas Fullkrug equalised. They would be through unless they lost to Japan and Costa Rica beat Germany (or Germany won by eight clear goals). Spain toyed with the Japanese in the first half and scored through Morata again. However, quick-fire goals at the start of the second half by Ritsu Doan and Ao Tanaka stunned the Spaniards. Spain finished second – a 4-2 German win over Costa Rica meant that Spain ultimately only qualified thanks to their massive scoreline against the Central Americans.
The teams now meet in the seventh Round of 16 match at 6 pm local time on Tuesday. It promises to be a fascinating tactical battle. Morocco have been one of the tournament’s surprise packages, and their first eleven is strong. They are also very defensively resolute under new coach Walid Regragui. They have not conceded a goal from an opposition player under him. Spain will implement their passing and possession game against the North Africans and try to break them down. The prize for the winners of Morocco vs Spain is a quarter-final tie with either Portugal or Switzerland.
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Morocco vs Spain Prediction Analysis
Midfield Battle and Transitions
We expect both teams to play their strongest elevens. Spain will line up with their tried and trusted 4-3-3, with Barcelona legend Sergio Busquets joined by clubmates and young sensations Pedri and Gavi. This midfield is the one that coach Luis Enrique has viewed as his strongest throughout the tournament, and we see no change here. Enrique could theoretically introduce a fourth midfielder to overload the middle of the pitch. However, with defensive midfielder Rodri playing centre-back and striker Alvaro Morata giving Spain a greater cutting edge, we don’t think he will do this.
The midfield battle will be imperative in this match. Spain are the masters of possession football, and nobody keeps the ball quite like them. At times in the group stage, it looked like they were playing in training exercises. Conversely, Morocco had less possession than their opponents in all their matches in their section. Therefore, it is obvious what the pattern of the game is likely to be: Spain dominating the ball and trying to find gaps in a well-organised Moroccan team which will be a massive threat on the counter-attack. Indeed, Morocco are very good at turning the ball over high up the pitch and breaking into vacated spaces when the opposition has lost its shape.
The Moroccan midfielders Sofyan Amrabat and talented youngster Azzedine Ounahi have a massive responsibility on their shoulders in this match. They must retain their shape and not allow any gaps to appear, which Spain could exploit when they speed the game up. The Moroccans will face a wave of passing and must not lose concentration for a moment, as Spain have the quality to get the ball into the final third. The three midfield men must try to press Gavi, Pedri, and Busquets. Busquets is generally exceptional under pressure. However, he is getting older and has looked more vulnerable at times in this tournament. The Morocco midfielders can win the ball from him in the Spain defensive midfield areas. They could then quickly transition with little balls out wide to Hakim Ziyech or Sofiane Boufal to run at an exposed defence.
Pedri and Gavi are very elegant midfielders capable of running this game. Amrabat, Ounahi, and Abdelhamid Sabiri must try to disrupt their rhythm. Pedri cannot be allowed to recycle possession and keep the ball moving from side to side. If he is, he will likely find little passes between the Moroccan lines for the Spanish front three. The two youngsters can also carry the ball forward at pace, so Amrabat, in particular, must be mindful of this and look to tackle and intercept the ball where he can. Generally, Morocco vs Spain should mainly be a match of Spain looking to break down the opposition and Morocco picking their moments to transition quickly.
The flanks are also crucial in this game. The Spaniards love to overload the sides. Indeed, Jordi Alba and Dani Carvajal are adventurous going forward, registering assists and key passes. Alba especially will support and, at times, overlap his winger on the left (likely Dani Olmo). Alba is capable of delivering great crosses, both high and wide. Indeed, he already has two assists in this tournament. His cute little low cross for Morata’s finish against Germany was a very clever play. Alba and Carvajal will play like this for large portions of the game.
Olmo and Ferran Torres will sometimes come deep to overload the midfield areas. However, they will also stay high and wide at other times and look to receive the ball on the touchline and come inside to link up with Pedri, Gavi, Morata, and the two full-backs. Olmo and Torres are goal threats, as both can shoot well and are good at finding positions in the box. Torres already has two goals from the Costa Rica match and Olmo one. Aguerd and Saiss must be wary of the wingers coming onto them. Morata is good in the air, but Aguerd and Saiss are commanding. Therefore, we expect Spain to play their way into the box or deliver low crosses rather than trying to find Morata’s head.
Going the other way, when Morocco can transition, they also have dangerous players in wide areas. They can undoubtedly exploit these avenues if Alba and Carvajal are caught out of position. If they are, Busquets and Pedri will likely fill the spaces they leave. This is because Ziyech and Boufal are extremely technically gifted, tricky, and creative wingers who can create magic moments, so Spain will be cautious of them. Ziyech is strong on his wand of a left foot, and with him cutting in off the right hand-side, Alba will have to be slightly more restrained at certain times in this match.
Noussair Mazraoui and particularly Achraf Hakimi are excellent going forward from full-back for Morocco. Indeed, many consider Hakimi the best right-back in the world. Therefore, the two full-backs will look to get ahead whenever they can and support the wingers. They may be pinned back at times simply due to the formidable possession stats Spain will likely yield. However, there is no doubt that the full-backs can create and cross in for Youssef En-Nesyri in the middle. The forward is very good in the air and decent on the ground too, and he will look to link with the four wide men and Sabiri. We expect to see much of Hakimi’s pace and trickery, shooting, and crossing from Boufal and Ziyech when Morocco are attacking. Set pieces could also be a lucrative avenue for Morocco to exploit.
Morocco have played mostly the same personnel in the World Cup, but there are some changes they can make. Selim Amallah is a midfield alternative. They can bring on exciting youngster Abde Ezzalzouli as a replacement out wide. Zakaria Aboukhlal is another talented youngster who can come on in attack. Yahia Allah can replace Mazraoui. Then there is veteran Abdo Hamdallah, who has a prolific goalscoring record.
Spain have several changes they can make. They could introduce flying young left-back Alejandro Balde if Jordi Alba tires, or they need to try something different. Koke can come on to shore up midfield even further. Youngsters Ansu Fati, Nico Williams, and Yeremy Pino could be given a chance as alternatives to Olmo and Torres. Also, Marco Asensio can play as more of a false nine. This change is helpful if Enrique decides he doesn’t like what Morata is offering as a more conventional centre-forward in Morocco vs Spain.
Morocco Key Players
Amrabat has performed admirably so far in this World Cup, and his role in this match will be crucial. He is mobile and a good presser of the ball. These qualities will be much-needed against a Spanish side that love to pass their opposition into submission. Amrabat must be disciplined, organise well, cover for the full-backs when they go forward, and close spaces between the Moroccan midfield and defensive lines. The protection of his defence will be vital. As a good passer of the ball, he will also be integral to initiating Moroccan counter-attacks by feeding the wide players when he wins the ball.
Ziyech, Hakimi, Boufal, and Sabiri are the players who give this Moroccan team much of their creativity. We have picked Ziyech out, though, as he will likely be up against Alba. Given Alba’s maverick style, Ziyech can find joy in the right-hand channel when Alba advances. Ziyech is an excellent dribbler and crosser, and he has had more shots than anyone in this Moroccan team in the tournament. Indeed, he is a massive threat when he comes inside on his powerful left foot to shoot, and Rodri and Aymeric Laporte must be wary of this. Ziyech’s pace, crossing guile, and shooting will all be crucial if Morocco are to upset Spain. He is also a threat from set pieces. However, he must work hard defensively, too, as Hakimi will need his help when Spain are attacking.
Spain Key Players
Pedri is already a fantastic young player and seems to be a key player every time Spain plays. This fact shows his maturity and intelligence beyond his years in a footballing sense. He will receive the ball from the Spanish centre-backs and goalkeeper Unai Simon and look to control proceedings in Morocco vs Spain, with his midfielder partners Busquets and Gavi. They will play in tight little triangles, popping the ball off and trying to confuse Morocco and drag them out of their shape. Pedri will also dribble towards the Moroccan penalty area. In the Moroccan defensive third, he will find little gaps to create one-on-ones for Morata or the Spanish wingers or release the full-backs out wide. He is diligent defensively too, and his mobility and stamina will help fill spaces if Spain over-commit.
Morata has already scored three goals in the group stage and will be crucial to Spain’s game plan. He will sometimes drop deep, but he also knows how to sniff out chances in the box. He will receive service from Alba, Carvajal, Gavi, Pedri, Olmo, and Torres. Morocco are a miserly team that rarely concede goals, and Morata has been criticised throughout his career for being profligate. This combination is not good for Spain, but Morata, to his credit, has been finishing well in this competition. He may get one or two good chances against a stubborn Moroccan rearguard, and he must take them. If he and Spain don’t take their opportunities, the game could swing on Morocco scoring on a transition.
Morocco vs Spain Prediction
Most of the Round of 16 ties have been a procession for the favourites; Japan vs Croatia was maybe the exception as a tight game that went to penalties. Morocco vs Spain could be a close contest between two incredibly geographically close countries, despite being on different continents. Morocco have enjoyed massive support at this tournament. Hence, this will be like a home match for them. Morocco vs Spain is a bad matchup for the Spaniards. Spain tend to be more vulnerable to defensively resolute teams which can sit in a compact shape and choose their moments to press. Japan did something similar against the Spaniards, and Morocco have the tools to do so too.
The first goal is paramount. Spain showed against Japan that they had no answer to break down the Japanese low block after Japan took the lead. The great Spain and Barcelona teams of the past also sometimes struggled with this in knockout matches. Therefore, if Morocco score first, we can see them putting in a backs-to-the-wall performance and only attacking occasionally, as they will have something to protect. If Spain score first, we don’t think Morocco will panic. However, the North Africans will have to change their game plan at some point, and Spain could pick them apart as they leave gaps in searching for the equaliser. It would not be a shock in the slightest to see Morocco elimiate Spain. However, we think this game will be decided by one goal or even extra time and penalties. We predict Spain to edge it in 90 minutes.
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