20:00 BST, Monday 25th June, Kaliningrad Stadium, (Kaliningrad), BBC
Spain’s World Cup campaign has already been a challenging one. And after a last-minute change of manager two days before kick-off, an opening clash against their European champion rivals and a narrow win against a resolute Iran, they still need a point to progress to the knockout phase.
Defeat to Morocco could see them eliminated if Iran can overcome Portugal.
But amongst all the rivalry, drama and tension, football fans have been treated to glimpses of vintage Spain. In spells, their football has been joyous to watch, but they have also showed tenacity and fighting spirit when things haven’t been going their way.
Meanwhile, following two defeats, this game will mark the end of Morocco’s World Cup adventure. They have played well throughout, but had little luck along the way. This will be their last chance to impress on the global stage until the next tournament at least.
Last Time Out
Iran 0-1 Spain
After playing some scintillating football but only coming away with a draw against Portugal, Spain needed to take all three points from their meeting with Iran. They knew they would dominate, but additionally that Iran would provide one of the toughest defensive challenges. And so it proved.
Spain struggled to create chances against a six-man defence supported by three defensive midfielders. For a team that likes to play fluid football, this was the nightmare scenario.
There were suggestions that Spain should have implemented a Plan B, but there would’ve been little point switching to a more direct approach when up against such numbers.
So Spain persevered in the only way they know how, passing and recycling the ball, waiting to for their moment to pounce.
When their crucial chance came, they had to rely on a little luck, but Diego Costa was in the right place to force a rebounded block into the back of the net. They suffered a late scare when an Iran goal was correctly ruled out for offside, VAR reviewers validating the linesman’s decision.
The win put them level with Portugal on four points, with just a point needed to secure a last-16 place.
Portugal 1-0 Morocco
Morocco were left feeling hard done by when they left the Luzhniki Stadium on Wednesday night.
Cristiano Ronaldo once again picked his moment, cleverly latching on to an early delivery into the box to give Portugal the advantage with a diving header before retreating into the shadows for much of the rest of the match.
From there, Portugal hung on as Morocco dominated, creating many chances with wave after wave of attacking play, most of which came through Amrabat who was a real danger down the right side.
It was great to watch for the neutral, but painful for Moroccan fans as chances went begging at an alarming rate. A mixture of poor final balls, wayward finishing and great goalkeeping from Rui Patricio kept Morocco at bay, letting a sloppy Portugal off the hook.
Fit-again Dani Carvajal returned at right-back against Iran, demoting understudy Nacho to the bench as Spain switched to a 4-1-4-1 formation.
That change also saw Lucas Vazquez brought in for Koke. With Morocco expected to be more adventurous, Fernando Hierro might revert to a 4-3-3 with Koke reinstalled in the starting XI.
Morocco’s impressive display against Portugal might prompt Coach Herve Renard to stick with the same 4-2-3-1 line-up.
That means Manuel da Costa continuing at centre-back ahead of Romain Saiss and Nabil Dirar slotting in a right-back behind Nordin Amrabat. Amrabat and Hakim Ziyech can be expected to switch sides during the game as they did against Portugal.
Key Battle: David de Gea (Spain) vs Nordin Amrabat (Morocco)
Goalkeeper Rui Patricio was key to Portugal maintaining their advantage against the Moroccans in the last round of matches. With Spain needing a point against a team that will look to go out with a bang, David de Gea is sure to be tested at some point.
With recent blunders – in the friendly against Switzerland and here against Portugal – fresh in the mind, Spain will need the Manchester United man to be back to his best on Monday night.
Nordin Amrabat was switched to a more advanced position in the game against Portugal and it paid off as he gave left-back Raphael Guerreiro a torrid time throughout. Amrabat also appeared on the left during that game, switching with Hakim Ziyech.
The Watford man was sent on loan to Leganes last season where he impressed under Coach Asier Garitano. When Javi Garcia, who managed Amrabat at Malaga, tried to bring him back to the Hornets in January, the player opted to honour his deal in Spain where he helped guide the club to safety.
As a former Ajax youth product, it is no surprise he has great technical ability. And the seasoned campaigner will look to show more of that on Monday as his lines up in what could be his last World Cup appearance.
Can Spain win the World Cup?
This game could be a real springboard for Spain. In their opener, they went toe-to-toe with Portugal on the back of a difficult week and were unlucky not to win the game.
Last time out, they showed character to battle through against a determined Iran. Against Morocco, they should get another chance to play some expansive football and build confidence heading into the knockout phase.
Momentum can make a big difference in these tournaments and a comfortable win here could provide the lift that Spain needs. And with the likes of Brazil and Germany wobbling in the group stages, Spain could also lay down a marker to those looking to join them in the last 16.
Could Morocco shock Spain?
Despite being separated by the tiniest stretch of water, Morocco and Spain have rarely met on the football pitch. They played a two-legged World Cup qualifier back in 1961, in which Spain won both ties, but that remains their only ever encounter.
With meetings so infrequent, Morocco will look to make the most of this opportunity and could pull off a shock. Their fluid attacking play could leave them exposed, but it could also cause problems for the Spanish defence.
They may need a little luck, and their strikers will need to be at their best – something they have failed to achieve so far -, but if they can rattle their opponents early on, as Portugal did in the group opener, they might surprise.
Prediction: Spain 2-0 Morocco
Spain have a job to finish while Morocco are playing for pride. The Africans will give it their all, but it won’t be enough against a side packed with top-class talent. However, this game should rank high on the entertainment scale.
Listen to the RealSport football writers discuss all the action from Day 8 of the World Cup in Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.
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