Belfast Telegraph

Spain snatch late draw against Morocco to set up last-16 clash with Russia

Iago Aspas’ equaliser secured top spot for the 2010 winners.

Spain will face hosts Russia in the last 16 of the World Cup after finishing top of Group B following a dramatic 2-2 draw with already-eliminated Morocco in Kaliningrad.

Spain, 2-1 down thanks to Morocco substitute Youssef En-Nesyri’s 81st minute header, were set to finish second and therefore take on Uruguay in the next round.

Their substitute Iago Aspas then flicked the ball into the net in the dying seconds and saw that the flag was up for offside – but the goal was subsequently given following a VAR review.

Spain had gone 1-0 down in the 14th minute when Khalid Boutaib punished a mix-up between Andres Iniesta and Sergio Ramos, before drawing level five minutes later through Isco’s strike.

While Fernando Hierro’s side – who survived a scare 10 minutes after the break as Nordin Amrabat’s strike hit the woodwork – snatched a point, Portugal were held to a 1-1 draw by Iran thanks to a late goal by their opponents.

It leaves Spain and Portugal level on five points each in first and second place, with goals scored putting the former ahead, and the latter set to face Group A winners Uruguay in the next round.

That last-16 clash will be on Saturday at the Fisht Stadium in Sochi, and Spain’s against Russia will be at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium the following day.

Iran finish third in Group B on four points, with Morocco – who picked up six yellow cards against the Spanish – bottom with just one.

Hierro made one change to his starting line-up, with Thiago Alcantara coming in for Lucas Vazquez the sole adjustment from the 1-0 win over Iran.

Meanwhile, a Morocco XI that was unchanged from their 1-0 loss to Portugal initially appeared on the team’s official Twitter account, before a different one was subsequently posted, in which captain Medhi Benatia had been replaced by Romain Saiss.

There was considerable edge to the game in the early stages, during which Gerard Pique escaped a booking after making a notable lunging challenge on Boutaib.

Soon after, Morocco were in front, Iniesta and Ramos appearing to leave the ball for each other just inside their own half and Boutaib claiming the ball, bursting forward and slotting through the legs of David De Gea.

Iniesta swiftly redeemed himself as Spain put together a fine passing move that finished with the former Barcelona man providing the cut back from which Isco fired in.

De Gea then did well to save when the rest of the Spain defence were slow to react to a Morocco throw-in and Boutaib found himself through on goal again.

David De Gea produced an important save late in the first half (Petr David Josek/AP)

De Gea made a decent punch to clear the danger with Mbark Boussoufa advancing towards him early in the second half, and Amrabat then cracked a shot against the Spanish goalframe.

Isco subsequently saw Saiss clear his headed effort off the Morocco line just after the hour mark, before En-Nesyri put the North Africans back in front as he powered a header past De Gea.

It appeared it would be enough to secure Morocco victory, but Aspas then made his late intervention, aided by technology.


From Belfast Telegraph