On a dramatic night, VAR played a decisive role in both Spain’s game and Portugal’s 1-1 draw with Iran in Saransk where Cristiano Ronaldo missed a penalty.
Spain, 2-1 down thanks to Morocco substitute Youssef En-Nesyri’s 81st minute header, were set to finish second and therefore take on Uruguay in the next round.
Their substitute Iago Aspas then flicked the ball into the net in the dying seconds and saw that the flag was up for offside – but the goal was subsequently given following a VAR review.
Spain had gone 1-0 down in the 14th minute when Khalid Boutaib punished a mix-up between Andres Iniesta and Sergio Ramos, before drawing level five minutes later through Isco’s strike.
While Fernando Hierro’s side – who survived a scare ten minutes after the break as Nordin Amrabat’s strike hit the woodwork – snatched a point, Portugal were held to a 1-1 draw by Iran thanks to a late goal by their opponents. It left Spain and Portugal level on five points in first and second place, with goals scored putting the former ahead. Portugal will now face Group A winners Uruguay in the last 16 in Moscow on Sunday.
Spain manager Fernando Hierro, who only took over on the eve of the tournament after Julen Lopetegui was sacked for agreeing to take over at Real Madrid, said: “We knew this would be a tough match, we knew Morocco were going to fight. We can improve.
“I’m not pleased or displeased we play Russia next. We’re pleased to be through. We tried not to think about the other match [Portugal v Iran]. We have to be very demanding of ourselves, it will be very difficult to reach the ultimate goal.” While Spain controlled the game against Morocco with 68 per cent of possession, Isco believes they can do better. “Maybe what we’re missing to better control the game is more ball possession,” said the Spanish midfielder who was man of the match. “Maybe that’s what’s missing. And that’s normally something that we do much better.
“Maybe we weren’t focused from the very beginning. We needed them to score on us to force us to react.”
Portugal, who led through Ricardo Quaresma’s stunning goal, were dramatically pegged back in stoppage time by a controversial spot-kick – awarded after a VAR review – and they would have gone out of the tournament had Mehdi Taremi not missed a golden chance at the end.