Morocco and Spain face off in the World Cup’s Round of 16 at the Education City Stadium this afternoon, where the Atlas Lions side will hope to avoid being schooled by Luis Enrique’s slick La Roja.
Walid Regragui’s charges were one of just two African nations to qualify from the group phase in Qatar alongside Senegal, however, with the Lions of Teranga already eliminated from the knockouts, Morocco are the last representatives flying the flag for the continent.
Spain meanwhile, will be desperate to avoid Round of 16 exits in successive World Cups after their slip-up in Russia four years ago and the pressure on them to perform today will be immense.
You can dive straight into our stats pack for today’s game below, which is jammed wall-to-wall with info from the teams’ World Cup qualification campaigns to date. The data should help you to fine-tune your bet builder coupons today. If you want to learn more about how best to use the figures, check out my Stats Pack Guide.
Morocco have a full complement of players to choose from today and right through their expected XI, the Africans have pockets of class that could hurt Spain.
PSG’s Achraf Hakimi and Bayern Munich’s Nousssair Mazaroui are both high-end fullbacks, while Youssef En-Nesyri, Hakim Ziyech and Sofian Boufal form a potent trident in the final third.
Hakimi and Ziyech can combine to deadly effect down the right flank and 44% of Morocco’s attacks at the World Cup have come down that side of the pitch.
Luis Enrique has few fitness concerns to contend with ahead of today’s Round of 16 tussle. Nico Williams and Alejandro Balde were handed starting roles against Japan last time out, though both should be re-benched and replaced by Ferran Torres and Jordi Alba this afternoon.
Barcelona trio Pedri, Gavi and Sergio Busquets should be strung out across midfield, while Alvaro Morata is expected to get the nod ahead of Marco Asensio in the central striker position.
Morocco have been expertly drilled at the back in Qatar and the only goal they’ve conceded so far was the OG netted by unfortunate defender Naif Aguerd against Canada on matchday three.
Only Argentina, Spain and Brazil have been conceding fewer shots per 90 than Morocco (6.66), while the highest xG clocked against them in an individual fixture was the modest 1.23 lodged by Belgium on November 27th.
The Moroccans haven’t been overly bothered about winning corners at the World Cup, though they have conceded plenty (6.66 p/90) and that could be an area to explore in the markets today.
Spain’s emphatic 7-0 victory over Costa Rica in their World Cup opener didn’t quite set the trend for La Roja, who managed to score just once in each of their follow-up fixtures against Germany and Japan.
Like Morocco, Spain have looked solid defensively for the most part and today’s opponents hold similar records in the xG, shots and shots on target against departments.
Interestingly, 11 of Spain’s last 19 shots at the World Cup (vs Germany & Japan) were hit from outside the box. La Roja managed just 1.99 xG combined in those games – figures that suggest they had some difficulty breaking their opponents down.
Player Shots and Shots on Target
Chelsea winger Hakim Ziyech (2.12) has been a threatening force from the right for Morocco, though fullbacks Noussair Mazraoui and Achraf Hakimi take up notably high positions on the team’s list of most-prolific shooters in Qatar.
Sofiane Boufal has been working hard to make an impact from the left, though his efforts have all been wayward so far. The 29-year-old has had four attempts in total at the World Cup, though his xG of 0.1 hints that his shot selections needed to be smarter.
Alvaro Morata, Dani Olmo, Marco Asensio and Ferran Torres have been racking up the attempts in Qatar, though RB Leipzig’s Olmo has been Spain’s king of consistency in the final third, hitting at least two shots in every appearance at the World Cup so far.
Spain have mustered 35 attempts in total in Qatar and the quartet mentioned above have chipped in with 28 of those between them. Bettors looking for shot market options today have little cause to look beyond that fearsome foursome.
Player Goals and Assists
Romain Saiss and Zakaria Aboukhlal both scored against Belgium with their only attempts on goal in Qatar so far, while Hakim Ziyech converted one of his two shots against Canada on matchday three. Youssef En-Nesyri also bagged a goal against the Canadians, netting for the 16th time for his country.
We mentioned Morocco’s potentially lethal combination down the right flank earlier and both Hakim Ziyech and Achraf Hakimi have collected one assist each. Those flanksmen also rank joint-top for shot-creating actions for Morocco so far (eight each).
With four goal contributions, Alvaro Morata has been a reliable match-turner for Spain and all but one of his goals and assists in Qatar have come from the bench.
Ferran Torres hasn’t scored since he bagged a brace against Costa Rica on matchday one, indeed, Alvaro Morata has scored 100% of his team’s goals since La Roja’s 7-0 rout against Los Ticos.
Jordi Alba is the line leader for assists (two), though the veteran fullback has been outdone by club teammate Pedri for shot-creating actions (12 to 10).
Morocco will be armed with some ideas about how to disrupt Spain’s possession-based football today and their gameplan should involve some heavy hitting in midfield from Sofyan Amrabat (2.67 fouls p/90) and Selim Amallah (1.50).
Elsewhere, I’ve picked out Noussair Mazraoui as one to watch in the card markets this afternoon. The defender is primarily a right-back, though he has switched flanks in Qatar and he might find it tough to deal with an old-fashioned right-winger in the shape of Ferran Torres today.
Diminutive schemer Gavi (4.00) has been one of the most-fouled players at the World Cup, indeed, only five combatants have been halted in their tracks more often than the 18-year-old wonderkid. Gavi’s collection of bumps and bruises could increase if Selim Sofyan Amallah can catch him today.
Similarly, Sergio Busquets (1.11) should have challenges from Amrabat to fend off. Further forward, Ferran Torres (2.50) will hope to be a nuisance for Noussair Mazraoui (3.3 tackles p/90). Mazraoui is very right-footed, so it will be fascinating to see how he defends on the outside with his weaker left peg against Torres.
Match-Ups to watch
Sofyan Amrabat vs Sergio Busquets
Selim Amallah vs Gavi
Noussair Mazraoui vs Ferran Torres
Sergio Busquets is the only Spanish player to have seen yellow in Qatar, though the 34-year-old is street-smart enough to avoid a booking today that would see him suspended for the quarter-finals.
Instead, fullbacks Cesar Azpilicueta and Jordi Alba look like La Roja’s prime card candidates this afternoon. The veteran defenders have committed just two fouls each at the World Cup so far, though both will have tricky wingers and flying fullbacks to deal with today.
Sofiane Boufal (3.18) and Hakim Ziyech (1.43) are always likely to draw fouls due to their silky close control and penchant for taking markers on in one-on-one situations, and both wingers will take every opportunity to run at Spain’s Azpilicueta and Alba this afternoon.
It could be double trouble for Alba down his side, however, who could be bullied by a Ziyech/Hakimi tag team down the Moroccan right. Hakimi has been fouled 2.22 times per 90 in Qatar and Alba might need to get nasty to thwart the rampaging defender’s surges forward.
Match-Ups to watch
Jordi Alba vs Hakim Ziyech
Cesar Azpilicueta vs Sofiane Boufal
Jordi Alba vs Achraf Hakimi
For a team that averages just 38% possession, Morocco have done a great job to get this far and will surely see even less of the ball against today’s possession based team.
Achraf Hakimi at right-back does a good job to find space, with Sofiane Amrabat and Hakim Ziyech the only non-defenders to make the cut.
Spain have averaged a whopping 76% of the ball, and that’s why today’s game sparked me to introduce passing to the stats pack.
Rodri has played as both a defensive midfielder and a centre-back, and has distributed over 150 passes per 90. Outrageous.
Midfielder Pedri may provide some value (1.67 for 90+ passes on Paddy Power) given he averages over 100 passes a game.