Spain produced an eye-catching performance with a 7-0 drubbing of Costa Rica in their opening game and with 10 minutes to go on Matchday 2, it looked like La Roja were cruising into the last 16. However, Álvaro Morata’s goal was wiped out by a late German equaliser, leaving Spain with some work to do in their concluding match. In that game, Morata again put Spain in charge, only to see two second-half goals from Japan turn Group E on its head. The upshot of a turbulent evening was that Spain had to settle for the runners-up spot in their section. Carrying on where they left off in qualifying — when they averaged 76% possession — Spain again had the ball for an average of 76% of the time during the Group Phase, registering 36 shots on target and allowing only 10.
From Morocco’s opening goalless draw against Croatia, it was clear that the north Africans were going to be hard to break down. Another clean sheet followed against much-fancied Belgium, and the only time that the Atlas Lions’ defence has been breached was an unfortunate own goal conceded against Canada — bringing to an end a run of six clean sheets under coach Walid Regragui. They were 2-0 up at that point, though, and hung on to clinch a place in the Round of 16 for the second time in their history. Morocco didn’t surpass 41% possession in any of their three games, averaging 36.3%, with eight shots on target, and five allowed.
Luis Enrique continues to employ the tried and tested 4-3-3 formation for a team ranked seventh in the world. Morocco have already exceeded expectations for a team in 22nd place on the FIFA list and will set up in an identical system. All three of the previous meetings between these two teams have been related to the World Cup, a two-leg playoff in 1961, where Spain triumphed, and a 2-2 draw, four years ago, where Spain needed a 90th-minute equaliser, which ensured that they escaped the group. The Irresistible force meets the immovable object.