Spain vs Morocco and other World Cup news and highlights

Spain’s team poses for a photo ahead of their round of 16 match against Morocco. (Javier Soriano/AFP/Getty Images)

Spain is entering its round of 16 match against Morocco immediately after a shock defeat to an Asian nation – a 2-1 loss to Japan – in the group stages.

The two sides have played each other three times since 1961, but their rivalry stretches beyond football results and into their shared history which has often been marked by conflict.

On the football field, La Roja Fuera began this tournament with a dominant, comprehensive 7-0 victory over Costa Rica, but it fought to a 1-1 draw with Germany and lost to Japan, ultimately qualifying for the knockout stages in an extraordinary finale to Group E.

“I am not happy at all. Yes, we have qualified, I would have liked to be on top of winning this game. This was impossible because, in five minutes, Japan scored two goals … we were out, we were dismantled,” head coach Luis Enrique said after the loss to Japan, according to Reuters.

In a strange twist of fate, however, the defeat meant that Spain qualified as the group runner-up and arguably finished with an easier potential route to the semifinals, avoiding 2018 finalist Croatia in the round of 16 and a possible quarterfinal against five-time champion Brazil.

Morocco, however, has impressed so far at this World Cup, holding Croatia to a scoreless draw, defeating Canada and, most notably of all, defeating Belgium – the No. 2 ranked side in the world.

These results ensured that it progressed to the round of 16 for the first time since 1986, while its head coach Walid Regragui became the first Arab coach to guide a team to the knockout stages.

“We said we wanted to give everything we’ve got to get out of the group stages,” said Regragui, according to the Guardian. “We can tick that box now. So why not aim for the sky?”