The last day of the Round of 16 brings about one of the most surprising matchups of the entire round, as a highly impressive Morocco faces off against European giants Spain.
Kicking off at 15:00 GMT from the Education City Stadium, the winner of this match will go on to face the winner between Portugal and Switzerland on Saturday for the Quarterfinals.
Let's face it: When Morocco was drawn into Group F alongside European juggernauts Croatia and Belgium, no one really gave them (or Canada for that matter) much of a chance to progress to the next stage at all.
After all, Croatia came in second in the previous edition of the cup, while Belgium themselves were not far behind, nabbing 3rd place. Morocco, meanwhile, were eliminated in the group stage with 2 losses and a draw.
However, a lot can change in four years and the North African side is the perfect example of this as they took a group that should have been out of reach for them and managed to not only progress from it, but actually lead the table with 2 wins and a draw.
Starting off the tournament by holding Croatia to a nil-nil draw with an impressive defensive display, Morocco went on to deliver one of the tournament’s biggest upsets as they rolled over Belgium with a score of 2-0.
With 4 points secured, all Morocco needed to ensure passage to the next round was a draw in their last game against Canada.
However, Morocco’s ambitions went beyond simply progressing to the last 16, and instead they produced a solid 2-1 victory to ensure they would qualify as group leaders.
While Morocco were giving their all to overcome Canada and install themselves as the leader of Group F, Spain came into their last match against Japan with qualification nearly in the bag. Or so they thought.
Having absolutely pummeled Costa Rica in their opening game and drawing against Germany in their follow-up, Spain had the benefit of a +7 goal difference, meaning any team that could match them on points would most certainly find itself second best to the Iberic side.
With Germany simultaneously playing for their lives against Costa Rica, Luis Enrique decided to rotate most of his squad and rest key players for a Round of 16 tie that was all but assured.
While the Spaniard B-side seemed to have things under control thanks to an Alvaro Morata goal in the 11th minute, Luis Enrique’s maneuver ended up dangerously close to going belly up as a fierce Japanese side awoke from their slumber and turned the score around in the second half.
While losing against Japan alone would not be enough to eliminate them from the cup, Costa Rica managed to go ahead against Germany in the 70th minute, leading to a bizarro world situation where Japan and Costa Rica would go through while Germany and Spain would be knocked out of the cup.
Even if Spain was unable to turn the score around, luckily for the Reds, Germany did manage to turn theirs, scoring 3 goals in the last 20 minutes and allowing Spain through to the next round in second place, while being eliminated themselves.
Given that Croatia qualified 2nd in Group F before Spain played their match, many speculate that Spain wanted to lose against Japan in order to avoid playing against the Balkan side. But was that the right choice?
Even if both countries are located on different continents, Morocco is a mere 14km away from the southernmost point in Spain.
However, when it comes to football, there is a much wider perceived gap between both sides. It is widely expected that the Spanish side should come out ahead in this knock-off tie, but by qualifying 1st in a group with 2 of the top teams from Russia 2018, Morocco has proven they are ready to slay the giants in this cup.
Look for goals in this match, especially if Spain scores a goal in the first half. If you think that to be the case, the over 2.5 priced at 2.24 at Betsson looks pretty tempting!