Morocco attempt to 'manage emotions' ahead of World Cup last-16 clash with Spain

Coach Regragui preparing for North African country's first appearance in knockout stages since 1986 on Tuesday

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Morocco coach Walid Regragui says managing players’ emotions will be key when they take on Spain for place in the World Cup quarter-finals – a match he labelled the “biggest” in the country’s history.

The North Africans face the 2010 champions on Tuesday in the last-16 clash at Education City Stadium as they contest the knockout stage for the first time in 36 years.

One of the real success stories of Qatar 2022, Morocco qualified for the last 16 by topping their group. Unbeaten at the tournament, they defeated Belgium and Canada, while also holding Croatia, the 2018 runners-up, to a draw. The country has never before reached a World Cup quarter-finals.

Speaking at a prematch press conference on Monday, Regragui said: “We haven't been at that level for 36 years, so me and my staff will have to manage the players' emotions.

“It is the biggest game in our history, but I hope the biggest will be the next one [the quarter-finals]. Our elders cannot replay their [1986 last-16] game against West Germany while the Spain game is ahead of us. I will tell the players to enjoy themselves, as millions in Morocco will be watching.

“We have to accept that Spain will have possession. We have our strengths; we abandoned possession to Belgium and Croatia and it worked well. Our plan is that they don't know what to do with the ball.”

In Spain, Morocco go up against a side perhaps with a point to prove. After opening their World Cup campaign with a 7-0 rout of Costa Rica, Luis Enrique’s side drew with Germany and were then beaten by Japan. Thus, they finished second in Group E.

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“It's going to be a very difficult game against one of the best teams in the world,” Regragui said. "They're among the top favourites. However, we have our own qualities, and we've had an extra day of recuperation. If we can knock them out, it will be a big surprise.

“I told the players before the World Cup: we're playing only finals here. We've played three finals in the group phase and now it's our fourth final.”

Morocco and Spain met in the group stage in Russia four years ago, playing out at 2-2 draw. Predictably, Regragui said that match would have little bearing on Tuesday, preferring instead to concentrate on the finer details that could have an impact.

Regragui, a former right back, took charge of his national team in September and has since made them defensively sound: Morocco have conceded once in his six games.

“I loved our second half against Canada, when we stuck to our plan and were extremely concentrated,” he said. “Against Spain, we'll have to play the whole game like this.”

Updated: December 05, 2022, 1:00 PM