As per FIFA rankings, the seventh-best team faced the twenty-second-best team in the world cup Round of 16 yesterday. Common sense dictates that the former would beat the latter with ease and progress to the quarter-final stage in the World Cup.
If only it were that easy.
But they fell severely short when it came to the final third, with an xG of only 1.01 compared to the African team’s 0.72.
The Europeans had almost four times as many accurate passes as Morocco, but only three big chances compared to Morocco’s one.
Long story short, they were not good. And the twenty-something ranked team took them the distance, ending 90 minutes and then the next 30 goalless.
This was in no small part thanks to their right-back and Spain-born superstar Achraf Hakimi. Hakimi chose to represent Morocco, the country of his parent’s birth, instead of his own birth country, and put in a splendid performance, affecting the play on both ends of the pitch.
After 120 minutes of stalemate came to the penalties, and it was Hakimi again who landed the killer blow.
Sabiri converted the opener for Morocco before Ziyech made it two in a row. On the other side, Sarabia and Soler both failed to get past Yassine Bounou.
Banoune’s missed penalty made it interesting but Busquets made it three in three failures for Spain.
Up stepped Madrid’s Hakimi, with all eyes on him. If he converted, Morocco would create history by going to the quarters for the very first time, becoming only the fourth African nation to do so ever.
In moments like these, you need ice in your veins. And boy did Hakimi keep his cool.
He not only converted, but he also did it with a panenka. Audacious, to say the least.
He then followed it up with a waddle celebration, sort of an impression of a dancing penguin.
The celebration is called the ‘Waddle’ because it was Jaylen Waddle, an American football player, who first did it after scoring a touchdown.
Fans though were quick to realise that this was not a tribute to Jaylen, but instead maybe to Sergio Ramos, his club teammate at PSG.
The duo was spotted doing the same celebration when representing PSG.
In fact, Mbappe was also seen doing the same step with the pair.
Many are saying that it was a nod to Ramos and to Enrique for dropping the defender for Spain’s national team.
Ramos’ exclusion was indeed surprising and maybe Achraf did take this historic moment to make sure everybody knew that.
Or maybe the right back just wanted to do the celebration regardless of the deeper meaning.
We don’t know.
What we do know is that Hakimi took the most important kick in Morocco’s football history with utmost cool and that’s what ultimately matters.
He and his team face a Portugal team that thrashed Switzerland 6-1. If Morocco wants this epic cup run to continue, Achraf will need more such calm and composure.
He has already written his name in the history books but will be hoping they can go even further than anyone expected them to.