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Qatar 2022: Another Andalucian battle in Qatar as Morocco prepare for grudge match against Spain

Morocco head into the fixture against Spain with a lot more than a place in the Quarterfinals to play for

Morocco and Spain do battle for a place in the last eight

In Spain's lacklustre final group game loss to Japan, more than a few onlookers suggested that Spain had played below their normal capabilities in order to secure a "favourable" round of 16 tie against Morocco who topped their group.

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It is far-fetched that Spain would do that, but not entirely impossible. If the rumours are true, Spain might be surprised at what they find when they face Morocco in their "easier" fixture. The Atlas Lions finished top of their group on merit and were well worth their victory over Belgium, the world's No. 2 team.

There will also be extra motivation for Morocco to beat their former colonial masters and an even more recent revenge plot since Spain controversially knocked Morocco out of the 2018 World Cup in Russia as well.

This fixture is only the second between Spain and Morocco at the World Cup, and the first was the contentious game at the Russia 2018 World Cup, where Morocco were hampered by several debatable refereeing calls and an extra-time winner from Iago Aspas that effectively ended their World Cup campaign.

Morocco

Achraf Hakimi

In a parallel universe, Achraf Hakimi would be playing for pain at the World Cup, not Morocco. He was born in Madrid, Spain. He was brought up in the Spanish capital, joining the academy of the biggest club in the city, Real Madrid, at the age of eight.

However, he always knew he would play for his country of heritage rather than his country of birth, and represented Morocco across multiple age groups before playing for the senior national team.

He has fast developed into one of the best full-backs in the World, and although he has not yet marked his World Cup with a goal, as he did in the AFCON, he has had a great tournament and could produce another quality display against Spain when he lines up for Morocco in the round of 16.

Spain

Ferran Torres

Ferran Torres continued to show his quality for Spain in the group stage, grabbing a brace against Costa Rica in Spain's opening group game. He started the game against Germany

Ferran Torres' guile and incisive running can cause serious problems for Morocco, as his runs in behind are critical for La Roja's attacking movements, and when he is in form, it would be difficult to stop Spain going forward.

If Morocco are to get any joy from the game, they will need to find a way to stop Ferran's runs without devoting too much of their defensive resources to marking Spain's most vital decoy runner.

Both teams are without any current injury or suspension concerns, so will be fielding as strong a lineup as possible. Only Spain will expect some changes in their lineup after resting some key players against Japan in their last group game.

Morocco's possible starting XI: Yassine Bounou, Achraf Hakimi, Romain Saiss, Nayef Aguerd, Noussair Mazraoui; Abdelhamid Sabiri, Sofyan Ambrabat, Azzedine Ounahi; Hakim Ziyech, Youssef En-Nesyri, Sofiane Boufal.

Spain's possible starting XI: Unai Simon, Dani Carvajal, Aymeric Laporte, Rodri, Jordi Alba; Pedri, Sergio Busquests, Gavi; Ferran Torres, Alvaro Morata, Dani Olmo.

All the group winners so far in Qatar have advanced to the next round, so it appears to be in Morocco's favour that they topped their group ahead of Croatia. Morocco would have to play the game of their lives for the second time in a month to beat Spain, but I am tipping them to do just that.

A victory in extra time for Morocco is not too much to ask for.

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