AL RAYYAN, Qatar — The noise had been building, rising from raucous to deafening and beyond, until it became something all-encompassing, vaguely elemental. The tension, too, as Morocco drew closer and closer to achieving what had seemed almost impossible.
Spain missed one penalty. Spain missed another penalty. Spain missed a third. Suddenly, after two arduous, attritional hours, Morocco stood on the edge. A place in the quarterfinals of the World Cup, its finest ever performance in the tournament, was in its grasp. The pressure, the sound, became almost unbearable.
At that point, Achraf Hakimi — born in Spain, having spent all of his childhood in Spain, who might in another world have been playing for Spain — stepped forward and took the gentlest, deftest penalty imaginable, nothing more than a silken, slight touch of the ball, a moment of utter calm before the mayhem descended.
Spain’s defeat, on penalties after a 0-0 draw, was, in many ways, entirely fitting. For all its talent, for all its dominance of possession, it had rarely given the impression of knowing how to score over the previous two hours. Álvaro Morata flashed an effort across the face of goal from an impossible angle. He strained to reach a header. Dani Olmo had a speculative free-kick punched away by Yassine Bounou. That Spain could not score any of the penalties it took did not come as a surprise.
Indeed, by the time the game was reaching its closing stages, Rodri, a defensive midfielder deployed in this tournament as a central defender, was striding forward and shooting from 35 yards. It served as something close to an admission of defeat, an acceptance that Spain had officially run out of ideas.
The chances did not come often, but when they did, it was to Morocco. Nayef Aguerd headed wide in the first half; twice in extra time, Walid Cheddira — a striker employed by the Italian second division team Bari and thrown on as a substitute — found himself with the goal looming in front of him. The first time he shot straight at Unai Símon, Spain’s goalkeeper. The second he was closed down, at the last second, by Rodri.
Spain might have claimed victory with the last kick of the game, Pablo Sarabia clipping the post, but by that stage it had become abundantly clear that Luis Enrique’s team did not know how to score. Penalties brought no improvement. Spain missed all three, and there was Hakimi, the coolest man in the chaos, to take Morocco over the line.