Spain sails through to knockout stage after topping Group B

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After an intense 90-minute match plus seven minutes of stoppage time, Spain managed to tie Morocco to top Group B and move on to the round of 16. This was only the third time the two teams had ever played each other, and it certainly was not an easy match for either side.

The match started off slightly different from how Spain played in their first two games of the group stage. Normally, their Tiki Taka style of play would mean a lot of quick, short passes. However, Spain’s players were moving quite slowly and didn’t seem to be on top of their game. This slow pace and lack of momentum on the Spanish side unfortunately led to an ill-fated, incomplete pass by Andrés Iniesta. Though it appeared that the pass was meant for center back Sergio Ramos, the confusion between the two teammates due to very poor communication allowed Morocco to intercept and score off a breakaway in the 14th minute.

After conceding a goal, Spain was quick to turn around and put the pressure on Morocco. Just as the world observed Spain come back to equalize two times in their first match against Portugal, La Roja managed to do it again. Only five minutes later following Morocco’s goal, Isco scored after multiple passes back and forth with Iniesta to successfully move the ball around the defenders. It appeared as though Spain was back on track to tie or maybe even win the game.

While Spain continued to play better than how they played at the start of the match, there still didn’t seem to be urgency in their attacks. This seemingly more relaxed vibe among Spanish players was most likely a result of knowing even a draw could put them through to the knockout stage. In the end, La Roja’s pure determination paid off not once, but twice during this match. After Morocco’s late goal in the 81st minute, Spain picked up the pace yet again attempting to equalize. Iago Aspas answered Spain’s prayers when he flicked the ball into the net in the 91st minute.

This goal was by far the most controversial of the game. A quick run through the play looked like this: Marco Asensio took the corner for Spain and made a short pass to Dani Carvajal, who then crossed the ball in front of the net so Aspas could get a foot on it and score. The assistant referee raised his flag, however, to call Aspas offside. VAR was incidentally implemented at this point, ultimately ruling him onside. Looking at the play from an aerial view shows Aspas feet are behind those of Morocco’s last defender before Carvajal passes the ball to him.

Iago Aspas flicks the ball into the back of the net in the 90+1’ (Photo Credit: Getty Images/FIFA.com)

It was evident in this game that Spain played well when they needed to score, but weren’t focused and were far too relaxed with their passes, especially toward the beginning of each half. Man of the Match Isco discussed this after the game saying, “Maybe we weren’t focused from the beginning. We needed them to score on us to start to react. After their goal we managed to play better.”

It was not an easy road to the knockout stage for Spain, but they did so and also succeeded in their goal to finish first in their group. Spain’s first match in the round of 16 will be against Russia on July 1st.

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