PREVIEW | Morocco set to take on the 2010 World Cup champions

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Morocco will start Tuesday’s last-16 World Cup clash against Spain as underdogs but they are ready to play another “final” to upset the 2010 champions, 36 years after their last appearance at this stage of the tournament.

The Maghreb side advanced top of their group by beating Canada and Belgium and drawing with Croatia, reaching the last 16 for the first time since they lost 1-0 to West Germany in 1986.

Spain will be favourites to beat Morocco in the World Cup last 16 on Tuesday but the teams’ experiences in the group phase were a reminder of the unpredictability of tournament football.

Spain, who humbled Costa Rica 7-0 in their opening game, finished second in Group E behind Japan while Morocco defied the odds to win Group F ahead of Croatia and Belgium.

The Spanish, world champions in 2010, lost their last group match to Japan and face a difficult test from a Moroccan side growing in confidence under coach Walid Regragui.

Morocco won against Canada 2-1 to reach the last 16 for only the second time and first since 1986.

The goal they conceded to Canada was their first in six matches under Regragui and during the victory celebrations.

Morocco are happy to sit back and look to punish opponents on the counter-attack using the speed and skill of Hakim Ziyech who returned to the national team when Regragui took over after a dispute with former coach Vahid Halilhodzic.

The Atlas Lions started the finals with a goalless draw against Croatia before a convincing 2-0 victory over Belgium, a win achieved despite the absence of goalkeeper Yassine Bounou who pulled out due to illness just before kickoff.

Spain drew 1-1 with Germany following their rout of Costa Rica and after the loss to Japan coach Luis Enrique was critical of his team.

Luis Enrique’s Tiki-Taka style of play relies on the Barcelona midfield trio of Sergio Busquets, Pedri and Gavi.

In the first half against Costa Rica, Spain’s 537 successful passes set a World Cup record but they will need to show more cutting edge to stay on course for a second world title.