Soccer-Morocco's Atlas Lions march on at World Cup with help of 'Red Army'

Soccer Football - FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 - Round of 16 - Morocco v Spain - Education City Stadium, Al Rayyan, Qatar - December 6, 2022 Morocco fans celebrate after the penalty shootout as Morocco progress to the quarter finals REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

AL RAYYAN, Qatar (Reuters) - Morocco supporters flooded into Doha on Tuesday for the team's last-16 World Cup showdown with Spain and the Atlas Lions made the trip worthwhile as they roared into the quarter-finals for the first time with a 3-0 penalty shootout win.

The last Arab and African side left in the World Cup, Morocco have been willed on by some of the most impassioned fans at the tournament who arrived at Education City Stadium with their ear-splitting volume turned up high even before kickoff.

When Spanish-born Achraf Hakimi sealed victory with the decisive spot kick Morocco's 'Red Army' exploded in celebrations that could have been heard all the way back to Casablanca.

Such was the Morocco supporters presence that Spain coach Luis Enrique gave them at least partial credit for his men misfiring on all three of their penalty shootout attempts after the game finished goalless following extra time.

"When a team shoots penalties in a normal situation it is difficult and when you are playing against a full stadium it is even more difficult," said Luis Enrique.

As Morocco head to the quarter-finals, where they will face the winners of the Portugal-Switzerland match being played later on Tuesday, there are more-and-more fans jumping on their bandwagon with the Arab and Muslim world rallying around them.

The first Arab nation and fourth African side to ever reach the last eight, Morocco have widespread support from royalty, with his majesty King Mohammed VI offering his congratulations, to the labourers who helped build the stadiums they play in.

Even the journalists covering the team were unable to contain their joy, with several standing during coach Walid Regragui's post-match news conference not to ask a question but to offer gushing praise.

"I think it is impossible to do this without these fans," said Regragui. "A lot of fans come to Qatar to support the team and all countries, from America to Europe to Morocco, they (Moroccans) love their country and I can tell them I need them for the quarter-final to make history.

"I am very proud of my fans, my people and Arabic people because I think you have Qatari people, maybe Algerian people, Tunisian people, Arabic people and African people you have a lot countries behind our backs to make history."

Morocco's Yassine Bounou, who was man of the match having saved spot-kicks from Carlos Soler and Sergio Busquets after Pablo Sarabia hit the post, was adamant the support was a factor and the players offered the victory as a gift to the fans.

"We felt the support and this gives us the impetus to give such a performance," said Bounou. "I applaud them and I want to give this gift to the people."

(Reporting by Steve Keating in Al Rayyan; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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