And so, in the end, it was down to him. After two tense, exhausting hours, and seven agonising minutes on the edge, Achraf Hakimi stood on the spot, the whole world watching. Born in Madrid, his was the sixth penalty in the shootout, the chance to send Morocco through to the quarter-finals of the World Cup for the first time in their history – and eliminate the country where he grew up. Pressure, what pressure? Hakimi barely broke into a run, instead virtually walking to the ball, and gently dinking it into the net.
Standing there, he shuffled from side to side and smiled. In front of him, Morocco’s fans went wild. Behind him, his teammates were sprinting straight at him. Together they ran towards the corner, where Bono, their goalkeeper and their hero, was waiting, arms wide. And then they fell to fell to the floor and prayed. History had been made, and how they had fought for it. An upset in the knockouts. Spain are out; Africa’s last remaining team are through.
Six and half hours have passed at this World Cup, and still not one opponent has beaten Bono. Morocco have conceded a single goal at this competition, and they scored that one themselves. Even when it went to penalties, there was no way past him, somehow. He saved two of them – from the Spain captain Sergio Busquets and from Valencia midfielder Carlos Soler – having already watched the first hit the post. It had been taken by Pablo Sarabia, who was now in tears.
How could he not be? He had been sent on with just two minutes to go precisely to take the penalty, to get Spain off to a good start but had not succeeded. Not then, and not before either. It was the second time he had hit the post in barely two minutes. If he came on with a mission, he had also been handed a moment. Suddenly appearing a yard from goal, taking the ball on the bounce, he had struck the post in the 123rd minute; which might have been part of the reason why he now did it again, the weight of responsibility just too much. Crikey, this was cruel.
Not that Morocco cared, and they will feel they deserved it. This place, which was very much their place, erupted. A tense, fascinating game had seen them not just resist Spain but have chances of their own, and now they had one that they would not allow to slip through their fingers. Abdelhamid Sabiri had scored, Sarabia had missed and it began. While Badr Benoun did not score from the spot, Unai Simon diving to save a weak effort, Hakim Ziyech did. And now Hakimi had as well, the coolest man in the whole of Qatar.