KALININGRAD, Russia (AP):
Spain do not need to win their last World Cup group match to advance, but that does not mean coach Fernando Hierro wants his team to look past Morocco to the round of 16.
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The 2010 champions can go through if they beat or draw with already-eliminated Morocco or if Portugal beat Iran in the other match in their group.
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“Mathematically, we have not yet qualified for the next stage, so we need to give the match the importance it deserves,” Hierro said yesterday.
Hierro said he would “work on the mental aspect of things, especially regarding motivation”, with his team, which is locked with Portugal at the top of Group B, with Iran just one point behind
He does not want them looking at who their opponent could be in the round of 16 in Russia. Not yet
If Spain and Portugal were both to lose their final match, Iran would win the group, and goal difference could decide who finishes second
Elimination for Spain would be their second straight group-stage exit. In Brazil four years ago, as defending champions, Spain did not progress from their group
Morocco have played well in their two matches, only to lose both 1-0. They will be playing for pride today, and coach Herve Renard is also working on his team’s mental preparation, trying to fire up his players by casting them as victims of refereeing decisions in Russia
“I hope we will be galvanised by what has been inflicted on us,” the Frenchman said
Hierro knows that even nations not considered traditional football powers – this is Morocco‘s first World Cup in 20 years – are well prepared for the tournament
“At this World Cup, and in football in general, there is always more equality,” he said. “Everybody is working harder, everybody’s working at a high level, everybody has great scouts. Everybody does their analysis in a very thorough way. I think this ultimately is good for football and what this sport represents.”