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Between offensive spectacle and defensive battle

In Germany, Abdelhamid Sabiri has always flown a little under the radar.

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Between offensive spectacle and defensive battle

In Germany, Abdelhamid Sabiri has always flown a little under the radar. He played a total of 33 games in the first or second division for 1. FC Nürnberg and SC Paderborn, but he never had a big break. Two years ago he joined Ascoli Calcio and has been active for Sampdoria Genoa since January. So you can confidently say that the man has not yet fully entered the big football stage. And then this Abdelhamid Sabiri, 26 years old, positions himself as the first shooter for his team in the penalty shoot-out against Spain. A small risk for him and his home country, which he left with his family at the age of three.

The midfielder stays cool, hits the bottom right and lays the foundation for one of the biggest coups at this World Cup: the 3-0 victory over the 2010 title holder and one of the favorites to win the title, the Moroccans' first-ever quarter-finals at a World Cup - and the prospect that this dream could go further. "For us players, this is the happiest day of our lives. Because it is not easy to get where we are now. That's why we deserve it," Sabiri said later.

Sabiri, who also played five games for Germany U21s before making his debut on September 23, 2022 for his native country, is an important part of a selection that has surprisingly reached the quarter-finals. With the basic virtues of a strong and clever defending team, Morocco sent the golden generation of Belgium home in the group stage and now, in Spain, defeated the next much higher rated opponent.

Morocco may not create as much glamor and spectacle compared to the other seven contenders, who will play their quarter-finals from Friday, but against coach Walid Regragui's side it is incredibly difficult to score or even create clear chances. Only Canada have scored in the North African team's four games at the Winter World Cup in Qatar. And central defender Nayef Aguerd also hit his own net.

True to the motto "The offensive wins games, the defensive championships" Morocco continues its triumphal march and meets Portugal on Saturday (4 p.m.) for the recently demoted Cristiano Ronaldo (see text below). The other knockout duels meanwhile unite the who's who of world football: Brazil will start with Croatia on Friday (4 p.m.), then Lionel Messi's Argentines will have to assert themselves against the Netherlands (8 p.m.), the next day they will compete alongside Morocco and Portugal also England and France in a direct duel (8 p.m.). Rarely before in the history of the World Cup since 1930 has there been such a compact accumulation of top-class games within two days.

The fact that the German selection had already started their return flight at the time of the tournament documents how far the team has come from being world-class. And from a realistic point of view, it can also be stated that the team of national coach Hansi Flick would not have lost anything in the knockout rounds in the moderate performance show in the emirate. Tournament mentality or not.

The best interim report after the round of 16 goes to one team by a clear margin: Brazil. The selection of the superstar Neymar, who returned in time after an injury in the preliminary round, has left the strongest impression so far. It's not just the attacking power that the team generates, but the fact that there haven't been any apparent weaknesses in any part of the team so far. At the back, in front of the formidable Alisson in the goal, there is a four-man defense chain around the 38-year-old veteran star Thiago da Silva, which leaves little chance for the opponent. I

In Casemiro's midfield, one of the best sixes in the world acts as a flywheel. And the offensive power is second to none: The three-man attack with Raphinha, Richarlison and Vinicius Junior can hardly be controlled by the opponent because of its speed and speed, and if Neymar can also act as a creative free spirit behind it, it's an ensemble that sets standards set in Qatar. Should the Seleção be able to continue that show of power, they are certain to win their sixth title.

The defending champion comes with some distance. France are still playing the disciplined style of coach Didier Deschamps, but in Kylian Mbappé they have perhaps the best individualist of this World Cup in their ranks. That makes the team unpredictable, even if the performances so far cannot be compared to those of the Brazilians.

The same goes for another knockout superstar: Lionel Messi. At his last World Cup participation, the 35-year-old ex-world footballer convinced as a converter between playmaker and center forward position. But with many of his team-mates not in the upper world class, it will be difficult for Messi to achieve the only triumph he still lacks in his title collection. A judgment that also applies to England and Croatia. The teams around captains Harry Kane and Luka Modric can annoy the big players on good days, but nothing more.

And what does the top boss say about that? Needless to say, Gianni Infantino saw "the best group stage of a World Cup that has ever existed". "We hope," said the President of the world football association Fifa, "that the World Cup will continue and end as it began, namely as a fantastic success."

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