By Mark Gleeson
NIZHNY NOVGOROD, Russia (Reuters) - Morocco were seconds away from handing Spain their first defeat in two years on Monday but their failure to grasp their chance at glory in Kaliningrad was just one in a series of missed opportunities that characterised their World Cup.
Spain, whose last defeat came at the 2016 European Championship to Italy, claimed a controversial last-gasp equaliser to send Morocco packing from the tournament with just one point from their three Group B games.
While the North Africans, back at the finals for the first time in 20 years, will feel their performances rated more than the solitary point they only had themselves to blame for failing to add to their tally.
An unfortunate, if somewhat bizarre, own goal in the fifth minute of stoppage time saw them lose their opener to Iran despite creating the better chances.
In their second match against Portugal they were the better team over the 90 minutes but could not claw back an equaliser to Cristiano Ronaldo's goal from an early set-piece.
Defeat in those opening encounters eliminated Morocco before their last game against Spain, where they again showed their potential but were punished for their mistakes.
Spain substitute Iago Aspas struck in stoppage-time to earn the dramatic 2-2 draw, the goal originally ruled out for offside but then awarded after a lengthy Video Assistant Referee (VAR) review showed the Moroccan defence had played Aspas onside.
The squad had mainly been drawn from players born to the expansive Moroccan immigrant communities in Belgium, France, the Netherlands and Spain and coach Herve Renard said they had learned some valuable lessons in Russia.
“We learnt what it is to play at a very high level. We would have loved to go into the next round but we should not regret anything," he said after Monday's match.
"We should be proud of what we have done”
Morocco will look to put their World Cup disappointment behind them by winning next year’s African Nations Cup for the first time since 1976.
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)