Morocco defeats Spain, Portugal routs Switzerland
Oh, we have stories! The news! Old! The tired ones! Exciting! If you can find better stories than here…damn!
Match of the Day: Spain 0-0 Morocco (Morocco win 3-0 on penalties)
Not for the actual game, as it was quite turgid for the most part, but for the story. Morocco reach the quarter-finals for the first time, only the fourth African country to reach this stage. It’s the same story as it was for Spain four years ago, when they spat it at this exact stage in Russia v Russia, and also on penalties after they were unable to break down a side parked the bus and the plane. As it always was, as it always was. It’s this story:
We have seen all of this before. Spain have been without a striker for so long it has become a running joke, and has also colored the way people remember trophy-laden Spanish teams. These Spanish sides were no less successful than these, but they also had David Villa or Fernando Torres to at least occupy the centre-backs and create space for their midfield. It’s not just about finishing chances, it’s about the type of runs a true central striker can make. These are the tracks that open up other spaces.
You can get away with a false nine, but you need to have either midfield or wide forwards running past that false nine. Otherwise, you just clutter the midfield even more and make it easier to defend.
Spain had no direct threat until Niko Williams came on in the second half, and they looked completely different when he did. But Marco Asensio is a midfielder. Dani Olmo is one of those weirdos who doesn’t really have a position, but he doesn’t get behind a defense either. Ferran Torres really does nothing (beware of any player Pep Guardiola decides he can’t save in a season). Spain basically had three players trying to get between the Moroccan defensive line and midfield, where Pedri and Gavi were already. One or two doing this is good, to bind and provide triangles. All three? Not really. And Spain also had no direct threat or long ball to try to support Morocco.
Also, never underestimate a guy just to take a penalty. Penalties have piled enough on them without adding the idea that this player’s entire existence depends on him making one.
For Morocco, this creates an interesting debate for American fans. This is not to shit on Morocco’s tactics or to declare them unworthy of the quarter-finals of the World Cup. They play what is best for them and what gives them the best chance. They did it expertly, although Spain made it awfully easy.
Either way, Morocco is where the United States would like to be, the quarter-finals. There was a time when the United States had to do it too. Remember they tried it against Belgium eight years ago, and couldn’t do it so well because they gave up a million shots and only Tim Howard turning into Ares stopped them from be embarrassed.
But the fact that the United States now has a more hybrid plan, where they can go to England as much as England attacked them, and the Dutch didn’t want them to go out on the counter, in a sense, it’s a step ahead of where Morocco is. The United States almost certainly has more talent than Morocco, which is strange to say but it’s the truth. But going from a team that just has to bunk the big boys to a team that tries to play with them isn’t an instant transition. You cannot flip a switch. The United States are in the middle of this transition, which means they might not get the results they want or the results a well-trained Moroccan team can get.
So what would you want as an American fan? Again, this American team is by no means built to play like Morocco do. He doesn’t have those players. But in a vacuum? We got a team in the quarters. The other held the United States at roughly arm’s length and carried them home. In 2026 there could be a game against Brazil or Argentina or another real heavyweight (debatable if Spain is actually that right now). So what would the United States do with everyone in their prime? What would you like ?
Progression isn’t linear, and trying to become a team that can truly play at the highest level can mean less than ideal results on the road to getting there. And yet, we would all want the joy of heading to the neighborhoods. That day will come. It’s just important to realize what each team is, what they try to be and how they get there.
Other results: Portugal 6 – 1 Switzerland
There are a lot of things on this one that are easy to reach. And you know I want it, because the main story was the one I was kind of calling a while ago. I thought Rafael Leao would be the choice to replace Ronaldo in the line-up. Fernando Santos thought it would be Goncalo Ramos. A hat trick later, it’s clear who is the functionally alcoholic writer and who is the international manager (but Leao scored too!).
The lowest branch of all time is to say that Ramos scored all the goals that Ronaldo can’t now, given that none of them involved him standing still at the penalty spot. Maybe it’s true, maybe not. The opening goal looks like the kind of goal Ronaldo used to hit on a fairly regular basis, but it’s also hard to imagine that this current version could get through the defender so quickly and accurately.
Does Ronaldo clear the first post for Ramos’ second in the same way? It’s the kind of racing he’s still doing, basically waiting to do, so probably. But maybe not? It was quite striking that when Ronaldo came on, Bruno Fernandes gave him a through ball which he couldn’t reach and which showed his age. As I saw a Tweet, the next he tried to go up he started five yards offside. In other words:
What is undeniable is that Portugal played more freely and dynamically light years away than at any time in this tournament. Joao Felix looked like a completely different player, happy to dribble past multiple defenders, take the ball under pressure and pop up all over the pitch. He was constantly running or dribbling into space where Ronaldo would likely be, while Ramos tried to get behind the defense and create space for Felix to enter. Fernandes was pulling more strings than ever playing behind two strikers who offered more options. than yelling at him or standing right next to him. There was just more of a nod to everything Portugal has done.
It’s obvious when Portugal are a better team. The problem is that Ronaldo can’t come into play when they are leading either. He is not a player who can play at the counter. Look how hard he struggled to get into the wide open today, and that’s against a team from Switzerland who had already given up.
But against Morocco in the next round, when the odds aren’t going to fall from the sky, it’s probably their place, a 0-0 draw in the 70th minute and Portugal running out of ideas. The kind of striker you bring when you’re pretty sure you’re just going to fire crosses into the box repeatedly. But can Ronaldo settle for that without rocking the boat? Even he can’t ignore what they looked like without him.
(Of course he can. It’s Ronaldo, and reality isn’t something he has to worry about).
goal of the day
You know I want to put Leao’s goal here just to honk (didn’t take that rib off though), but Ramos’ corner pocket from a tight angle was much more important. It is to storm the doors:
Did VAR screw up?
Considering Spain never approached Morocco’s backline, there was very little chance VAR would do anything.
Did Qatar or FIFA screw something up?
Not as such, although this cursed tournament had another highlight courtesy of Cameroonian legend and FA president Samuel Eto’o which will undoubtedly have FIFA officials facing the palm.
Did Alexi Lalas say something stupid?
It’s not totally on Lalas, as nearly all of Fox’s in-studio analysis is pretty rudimentary. Which comes as no shock, given that their NFL or MLB coverage rarely, if ever, goes beyond goofy brotherly laughter or the simplest possible analysis. Before each game, studio analysts choose a “player to watch” and almost every time it’s the biggest star of both teams. It’s what anyone on the street would choose. This tells us nothing. These people are supposed to know and are supposed to pick things out that we lay fans might not know and tell us things to look for that we wouldn’t have thought of.
Naturally, Lalas chose Ronaldo before Portugal-Switzerland, and he wasn’t even fucking playing! This is the simplest story possible! That’s all Lalas does when he tries to talk about real football. It’s a whole Fox thing. Why not choose Ramos, since he takes this place? Probably because Lalas has no idea who Ramos is and he never watched Benfica play.
A eulogy for the deceased
Spain – This is how Spain will likely exit every tournament, unless they win it. But because that’s what we associate with Spain, we lose sight of the fact that they’re a team in transition. Gavi, Pedri, Olmo, Williams, Balde, Fati are all under 25 and all will be the mainstay of the Spain team in the future, maybe as soon as Euro 2024. Spain a serious threat to a trophy. in 2024 or probably 2026 (or even maybe home in 2030, but that’s hard to project).
Spain have a lot more shit, maybe because of where they fell, but they don’t really do things very differently from Croatia. Croatia control the ball most of the time thanks to their exceptional midfield. Most of Croatia’s games are hard to watch as they are more concerned with control than aggression. Give them space and they’ll kill you, like Croatia did in Canada or Spain in Costa Rica. If you deny them space, they’ll just keep the ball and make getting things under control their first priority. But Croatia are underdogs and good at penalties, and Spain are… well, Spain.
Swiss – The minor player in the narrative machine that Portugal became just before the game. They were clearly unprepared for an attack from Portugal from all angles. And they did what they always do, complete the second round, then go home when the tournament gets serious. Their upheaval from France to the Euro remains quite a hilarious anomaly. Look, they had an MLS striker as the focal point of their attack (Xherdan Shaqiir). And not even a good one, based on last season. You know how it goes, and so on.