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World Cup Group B: Spain 2-2 Morocco


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Spain will finish top in Group B despite a shock draw to Morocco tonight in the Kaliningrad Stadium in Russia, during their final World Cup group stage match. 

After sparkling in their cracking opener against Portugal, many fans were tipping Spain to be the ones to beat this world cup. But after scraping past Iran, La Roja were frustrated once again by a Morocco outfit who showed pluck and bottle to snatch a sensational winagainst the 2010 World Cup and 2012 European Championship winners. 

Spain named the exact same line-up which managed to defeat Iran on Wednesday evening, despite suggestions that manager Julian Lopetegui would rotate the squad, with qualification assured following that victory. Morocco meanwhile would be heading home after the match, burdened with the frustrating accolade of playing excellent passing football but lacking the key cutting edge which seperates sides at major tournaments. 

Spain unsurprisingly dominated the ball in the opening exchanges with the mercurial Andres Iniesta at the absolute centre of everything. Isco attempted to play through Iniesta on the fifth minute mark, but his pass was cut out by the impressive Romain Saïss. Nordin Amrabat and Sergio Ramos briefly squared up as temperatures flared, whilst Gerard Pique was very fortunate to not see a red card for a scything two footed tackle on Khalid Boutaïb, with the referee surprisingly not consulting VAR or even giving a yellow card. 

But although Spain saw almost all of the early possession, it was Morocco who took the lead. Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos was dispossesed by Khalid Boutaïb just inside the Spanish half and the Morocco showed speed and composure to race away from the Spanish backline and slot the ball past David De Gea, as the stadium erupted into noise. Not surprising considering it was the first world cup for 20 years for the Lions of the Atlas. 

Spain briefly lost their head committing several niggly fouls with Busquets and Ramos particularly cupable, but parity was restored five minutes later as a superb interchange involving Iniesta, Diego Costa and Isco saw the latter teed up to finish from close range. Morocco continued to be combatative after the equaliser, with Karim El Ahmadi seeing yellow. 

Lopetegui's outfit were nearly architects of their own downfall again, however. Sergio Ramos and Pique both displayed school-boy defending at a Moroccan throw and Khalid Boutaïb was in again, but this time De Gea was able to block with his body, making remarkably his first save at the tournament. Spain continued to monopolise possession without really going anywhere, while one-time Watford winger Nordin Amrabat went into the book for a nasty lunge on Ramos. This sparked a flurry of cards with Manuel Da Costa and captain Moubarak Boussoufa also carded. 

Busquets missed a header from ten yards whilst Ajax star Hakim Ziyech took on a difficult chance for Morocco but his shot was always rising above De Gea's goal. Iniesta rolled the ball tantalisingly across goal, begging for someone to put it away but no one obliged and this signalled the half time whistle in Kaliningrad.

The second half began with Spain's defence showing no signs of improvement. Pique should have been booked for a blatant foul before a longer pass aimed towards Boussoufa was punched clear by De Gea. Spain won a corner, but Morocco broke swiftly on the fifty-fourth minute and Amrabat sent an absolute rocket arcing towards the top right corner but with De Gea beaten, he could only find the stantion of post and crossbar. 

Spain nearly took the lead for the first time all night just past the sixtieth minute. A superb flowing move found Isco and the dimunutive playmaker's header seemed destined to loop into the net but the excellent Romain Saïss was able to scramble back and nod it away just on the line. Thiago Alcantara shot wide before he was hooked along with Costa for Madrid starlet Marco Asensio and Liverpool legend Iago Aspas, whilst Morocco goalscorer Khalid Boutaïb begrudgingly made way for Youssef En-Nesyri. Sergio Ramos's strike cleared the Morocco goal and the game appeared to be petering out into a frustrating draw. 

This all changed on eighty-first minute thanks to substitutes Faycal Fajr and En-Nesyri. The former's corner was expertly placed on the Malaga centre forward's head and he slammed the header in at the near post, going crazy in the process of celebrating. The stunned Spanish bench swapped out the unusually quiet David Silva for extra striker Rodrigo Moreno hoping to snatch an equaliser, whilst Morocco tried to consolidate by subbing on Aziz Bouhaddouz.

Except, their suring-up tactics didn't work. Once again, VAR was at the centre as Iago Aspas's header from a corner was initially disallowed for a foul, but the goal stood on review. In reality, there looked to be little wrong with it, but the Morocco players protested furiously, resulting in the game ticking into the seventh of four minutes of added time. The finish deserved more credit too, with the Celta Vigo man flicking the ball into the net as it threatened to bounce behind him.

In reality, Spain were lucky to snatch a draw and despite dominating in terms of possession and chances, they still were made to work very hard by a plucky Morocco outfit, who will wonder what might have been had certain moments at this tournament gone their way. But wild celebrations greeted the final whistle as Spain found out about Iran's injury time leveller against Portugal which helped them top the group on just five points and set up a clash against hosts Russia in Moscow on Sunday. 

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