Substitute Iago Aspas and VAR came to the aid of Spain as they were spared from a defeat against Morocco at the Kaliningrad Stadium on Monday.
Spain qualified for the Round of 16 as the winners of Group B, despite an unconvincing 2-2 draw against Morocco in their final group game.
The North Africans took a surprise lead in the first period, capitalising on a mistake from La Roja captain Sergio Ramos, with Khalid Boutaib applying the finishing touches. Playmaker Isco would reinstate parity soon after though, rounding off a neat team move to grab the equaliser.
When Youssef En-Nesyri headed into the net past David de Gea in the 81st minute, it looked as the curtains had fallen for the Spaniards. But, substitute Iago Aspas rescued a point for his side with an audacious flick in the dying seconds of the game, which was held up by VAR, after the referee had awarded offside.
Fernando Hierro’s men are now set to take on hosts Russia in the Last 16. And here, we look at three players who stood out the most at the Kaliningrad Stadium.
The 31-year-old Moroccan forward was on the receiving end of a vicious two-footed challenge from Gerard Pique early in the game, but battled on bravely. Starting as the lone striker, Boutaib worked extremely hard at the top and made the most when his moment came.
A mix-up between Ramos and Andres Iniesta allowed the 31-year-old a clear run at the Spanish goal and he made no mistake, slotting past de Gea to hand his team a shock lead, which was Morocco’s first at a FIFA World Cup since 1998.
Boutaib continued to pose questions to the Spain defence and could have easily had another goal, but was denied the second time around by the Spain goalkeeper. An energetic, hard-working performance from the striker before he was subbed off.
As has been the case so far in Russia, it was Isco once again who ran the show for Spain in the final third of the pitch. The Real Madrid playmaker is in fine nick and it showed again on Monday as he caused all sorts of troubles to the Moroccan defence, with his clever movement, slick passing and silky touches.
The 26-year old Real Madrid star once again had the most touches on the field (128), made the most number of key passes (6), dribbles (4) and also put in the hard yards defensively, making a number of tackles and key interceptions as well.
His most important contribution though, came in the first period, when he tucked away his goal from close range in the first period, to bring back Spain from a goal down. Another dominant display, encouraging signs for La Roja.
The 34-year-old was involved in the mix-up leading to Morocco’s opener, but redeemed himself soon after, as he skipped past the Moroccan defence, setting up the equalizer for Isco with a clinical pass. Iniesta, along with Isco, was one of the main creative outlets for Fernando Hierro’s side on Monday.
The midfield maestro put on a classy display, driving Spain forward each time he had the ball at his feet and linking up nicely with the likes of Isco and Diego Costa in the final third. However, he did seem to fade towards the end of the game. Nevertheless, it was still an impressive display from the veteran, which bodes well for Spain going forward in the tournament.