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FIFA World Cup 2022 Preview: Morocco vs. Spain — December 6, 2022

Doha, Qatar; Spain midfielder Pedri (26) kicks the ball against Japan before a group stage match against Japan during the 2022 World Cup at Khalifa International Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Yukihito Taguchi-USA TODAY Sports

Morocco and Spain will face off in Education City Stadium on Tuesday, Dec. 6, in what has the potential to be an exciting Last 16 tie.

Morocco surprised everyone by topping Group F, knocking out Belgium in the process. Unbeaten so far, the Atlas Lions will be confident they can pull off another shock to reach the quarter-finals for the first time.

Spain started the tournament with a 7-0 win over Costa Rica but has looked unconvincing since; a 1-1 draw with Germany and a 2-1 defeat to Japan saw Luis Enrique’s men limp into second place in Group E.

This game’s winner will face Portugal or Switzerland in the quarter-finals, setting the stage for a potential Iberian Derby.

Spain Key Player: Pedri

Pedri has arguably been Spain’s player of the tournament so far and will look to dictate the flow of the game once again. Our metrics suggest he is well-placed to do so, as his 87.7 passing grade is currently tied for the best mark of the tournament.

The Barcelona playmaker has contributed four key passes; he leads the team with eight defensive-line-breaking passes and has 31 line-breaking passes in total.

Spain struggled to break down Japan in their previous game and will be relying on Pedri against a Moroccan side that has conceded only one goal so far.

Morocco Key Player: Achraf Hakimi

The PSG full-back boasts his team’s best dribbling grade (73.6) and the second-best passing grade (76.0). He has also contributed a shot on target.

He has also stood out defensively, winning all four of the 50/50 duels he has been involved in and successfully defending 63.6% of the dribbles he has faced. In all, he has won 70.4% of his challenges.

He will need to be at his best on both sides of the ball if Morocco is to progress.

Matchup to watch: Morocco’s Attack vs. Spain’s defense

Spain will likely dominate possession, given that they are leading the World Cup with a 91% pass-completion rate and have completed 726 more passes than anyone else.

Morocco has the tournament's fourth-lowest pressure rate, suggesting they might seek to emulate Japan’s successful strategy of sitting back and hitting Spain on the counterattack.

If so, Morocco will likely rely on their front three of Hakim Ziyech, Sofiane Boufal and Youssef En-Nesyri to create chances and expose Spain’s makeshift center-back Rodri. The Man City player has struggled defensively at times —  he was badly caught out of position twice against Germany and has earned a 56.8 challenge grade and a 39.2 aerial-duel grade.

The Moroccan attacking trio has received a combined 29 line-breaking passes so far, although just one broke a defensive line. Scoring a goal a piece in the win over Canada, En-Nesyri and Ziyech both recorded two shots on target in the group stages — En-Nesyri receiving an 83.0 shooting grade, Ziyech posting a 71.2 shooting grade. This will give them some cause for optimism, but the Moroccans will need to be clinical to have any hope of victory.

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