Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images

Spain draw Morocco, win Group B in dizzying final five minutes

3 Comments

Spain survived a near-disaster scenario, which could have seen them eliminated from the 2018 World Cup (pending result elsewhere), but still struggled en route to a 2-2 draw with Morocco in Kaliningrad, Russia, on Monday.

From start to finish, it was a muddled mess of a performance for Fernando Hierro’s side. And yet, rather than facing Uruguay, who clinched Group A with a 3-0 victory over Russia earlier in the day, Fernando Hierro’s side finishes top of Group B (based on goals scored) and will face the hosts in the round of 16. More importantly, they’ll (likely) avoid the likes of Brazil, France and Germany in their half of the knockout bracket.

[ SCENARIOS: Who needs what, to finish where, in final round of group games ]

Khalid Boutaib, Isco, Youssef En-Nesyri and Iago Aspas scored the goals, in that order, as Spain scraped their way to a 1W-2D-0L record in the group stage.

The scoring opened in perhaps the most unlikely way imaginable: a giveaway by Andres Iniesta, though plenty of blame could be given to Sergio Ramos as well, and an easy breakaway for Boutaib, who raced in on goal and slid the ball between David De Gea‘s legs to make it 1-0 (WATCH HERE).

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ]

Morocco’s lead didn’t last long, though, as Iniesta atoned for his earlier error, with a little help of some silky operators wearing red. A quick passing sequence down the left side of the penalty area freed Iniesta to play the simple, but perfectly timed, ball to Isco for a close-range finish. (WATCH HERE)

 Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

The second half’s first great scoring chance came in the 55th minute, and it nearly put Spain behind again. Nordin Amrabat unleashed a powerful, right-footed strike from the corner of the penalty area, leaving De Gea completely helpless in goal, but the Watford man was denied by the 90-degree angle where the crossbar meets post. Another wake-up call for the 2010 World Cup winners, but a massive let-off in the end.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

En-Nesyri headed home the would-be winner from Faycal Fajr’s corner kick in the 81st minute, seconds after Gerard Pique was perhaps suspected of having committed a handball offense inside the penalty area.

It wasn’t the last bit of drama, though, as Aspas flicked home the equalizer in the 90th minute. He was initially ruled offside by the assistant referee, but a video review indicated he was perfectly level when the ball was crossed into the box.

VIDEO: Portugal lead Iran at HT; Spain 1-1 Morocco

Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images
4 Comments

We’re through the first 45 minutes of Monday’s Group B finales at the 2018 World Cup, and things are happening. A quick rundown…

[ SCENARIOS: Who needs what, to finish where, in final round of group games ]

Andres Iniesta and Sergio Ramos combined to commit a disastrous gaffe at midfield, resulting in a goal for Khalid Boutaib in the 14th minute. At this point, Spain would have finished second, behind Portugal, and headed to the far more difficult side of the knockout bracket.

Five minutes later, it was Iniesta who, with a little help from some slightly lesser geniuses, unlocked the Moroccan defense to set up Isco for an emphatic finish. La Furia Roja moved back to the top of the group, on goals scored.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

In the afternoon’s other game, Portugal and Iran appeared destined for a 0-0 scoreline at halftime, until Ricardo Quaresma unleashed a stunning, outside-of-the-foot curler from outside the box to beat the goalkeeper and put Portugal ahead — both on the day, and in the table. As things currently stand, Portugal would win the group and Spain would finish second.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 12 — Time to settle Groups A & B

Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Day 12 of the 2018 World Cup is up next, on Monday, and with it begins the final round of group games to decide the 16 teams headed to the knockout rounds. For the next four days, we’ll be treated to four games each day.

Also, the end of 8 a.m. ET kickoffs. Hooray for sleeping in.

[ SCENARIOS: Who needs what, to finish where, in final round of group games ]

First up, the conclusion of Group A, where both the hosts, Russia, and Uruguay have already advanced with wins in their first two games. Now, the two meet in the southwestern city of Samara to determine who’ll go through to the round of 16 as the group winners, and who’ll be the runners-up. Most likely awaiting either of them will be Spain and Portugal, pending the order in which they finish in Group B.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ]

Speaking of Group B, Spain will finish group play against fourth-place and points-less Morocco, while Portugal have a tricky meeting with third-place Iran, who sit just a point behind the reigning European champions. The winner of Group B will face the runners-up of Group A, and vice versa.

Below is Monday’s schedule in full.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


2018 World Cup schedule – Monday, June 25

Group A
Uruguay vs. Russia: Samara, 10 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Saudi Arabia vs. Egypt: Volgograd, 10 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group B
Spain vs. Morocco: Kaliningrad, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Iran vs. Portugal: Saransk, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

American referee Geiger accused of asking for Portugal kit

Jean Catuffe/Getty Images
3 Comments

Morocco’s World Cup journey will conclude after the group stage, but the African side isn’t pleased with how their second match transpired on Wednesday against Portugal.

[ MORE: Spain gets win after Iran sees equalizer ruled off ]

The Moroccans have lodged a complaint with FIFA against referee Mark Geiger — an American who has become one of the most well-known officials in Major League Soccer.

Geiger was alleged to have asked Portuguese captain Cristiano Ronaldo for his jersey at halftime of the 1-0 win over Morocco, to which Geiger has categorically denied the claims.

FIFA released the following statement on the matter:

The claims stemmed from Morocco player Nordin Amrabat, who addressed the matter in an interview following the match.

“I don’t know what [Geiger] is used to, but he was very impressed by Cristiano [Ronaldo],” Amrabat said. “I’ve been just told by Pepe that in the [first half], he asked if he could have his shirt. Come on, man. What are we talking about? … We are at the World Cup, not a circus here.”

Geiger returned to action on Thursday as video assistant referee for the Denmark-Australia match, which included an important alteration in a call that led to an Australia penalty kick.

Renard, Morocco ‘very proud’ of unlucky national team

AP Photo/Antonio Calanni
Leave a comment

If you would’ve told Morocco fans or their manager, Herve Renard, that they’d outshoot and outpossess both Iran and Portugal at World Cup, their next question would probably be, “So do we need to do against Spain to win Group B?”

Alas, Morocco lost a pair of 1-0 decisions to become the first team knocked out of the 2018 World Cup.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

The Lions of Atlas fell to Iran in their opener on a stoppage time own goal after carrying 64 percent possession and a 13-8 advantage in shot attempts, then lost to a Cristiano Ronaldo fourth minute goal on Wednesday despite a 16-10 shot advantage and 53 percent of the ball.

“I’m very proud of the performance and I am very proud of my players, I’m very proud of this country,” Renard said.

With no hope of advancing to the next round, the manager is finding the experience bittersweet. From RTE:

“What I am sure of at this moment is that the entire Moroccan people is proud of this team. Of course it’s easier to play with a player who has one chance and he puts it away. But we are in Morocco.

“We have quality players. Despite the ups and downs of the game, we should have been more effective. Because, like in the first game, we had plenty of chances. I won’t blame anyone. That’s football. It’s always those who know how to be present in the box, the most gifted players, who make the difference. We took a lot of risks and we didn’t get our reward.”

It’s unlikely Morocco will hold either of those statistical advantages against Spain, especially a Spanish side yet to qualify, but there is plenty to like from the tournament aside from poor finishing quality.

But the performances of 19-year-olds Amine Harit (Schalke) and Achraf Hakimi (Real Madrid) — not to mention Hakim Ziyech (25, Ajax) — seem to hint at a promise for 2022. And Renard’s men can still play spoiler for Spain, which is no small shockwave.