Soler to Hakimi: The Spain vs Morocco World Cup joke that became true

Achraf Hakimi, Carlos Soler.Getty
  • Soler explained how he jokingly predicted Tuesday’s match with Hakimi
  • Morocco & Spain will meet in the World Cup round of 16 for the first time
  • The North Africans are seeking a maiden quarter-final appearance

WHAT HAPPENED? Soler explained how the two joked about Morocco and Spain meeting in the round of 16 in Qatar just before they joined their respective nations and the prediction has come to pass, given the Atlas Lions will face La Roja on Tuesday, having finished top of their group.

WHAT DID HE SAY? "Before the World Cup, we joked about that,” Soler told AFP as quoted by Sport360. “We said to ourselves: We [will] meet again in the last 16 and here it is, it happened.”

“But since then, we haven't spoken to each other, no. Morocco has done a magnificent group stage, they came out first. Hakimi, [Hakim] Ziyech, [Youssef] En-Nesyri, [Yassine] Bono. They have a lot of very good players, and collectively they are also very strong.”

“We expect a very tough game. They will probably be waiting for us behind, so we will have to exert ourselves physically, move the ball quickly from side to side, and be more vertical when we can."

THE BIGGER PICTURE: Morocco are in the knockout stage for just the second time, achieving this in the 1986 tournament too. In 2022, they have topped what was termed as the ‘group of death’ that had 2018 runners-ups Croatia, Belgium, semi-finalists four years ago, and Canada.

The Atlas Lions started their campaign with a goalless draw against Croatia before stunning Belgium 2-0 and concluded with a 2-1 victory over Canada. Luis Enrique’s side, meanwhile, only went through on goal difference after finishing second in their group following a 7-0 win against Costa Rica, and a 1-1 draw with Germany before Japan beat them 2-1.

It will be the fourth meeting between the two with the North Africans seeking a first win against the 2010 world champions, having lost 3-2 and 1-0 in 1991 before a 2-2 draw at the group stage of the 2018 World Cup.

WHAT’S NEXT? While Hakimi is confident of his place in the starting XI of Tuesday’s encounter, Soler will hope to be involved after making only one substitute appearance so far.

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Which African team will go furthest in the World Cup?

  • 12013Senegal
  • 1925Cameroon
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  • 6212Morocco
  • 761Tunisia
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