Morocco became the first African nation in history to qualify for the World Cup semi final as they stunned Portugal 1-0 at the Al-Thumama Stadium on Saturday night.
Youssef En-Nesyri scored a brilliant header in the 42nd minute following Yahia Attiyat Allah’s looping cross from the left wing to give Morocco the lead.
The African side were reduced to ten men in stoppage time, but they held on and etched their name in the history books to reach the last four in Qatar.
Cristiano Ronaldo was named as a substitute once again following Portugal’s 6-1 win over Switzerland in the round of 16 and it was Portugal that started the better of the two sides on the night.
The Seleccao looking composed in possession, keeping their opponents at bay but they rarely opened up a very organized Moroccan back line.
The African side sat deep soaking up the pressure but whenever they had the ball made darting runs into the Portugal penalty box dragging the opposition defenders out of position to create space and loop in crosses from either wings to test the Diogo Costa in goal.
Their approach worked as En-Nesyri rose highest with a massive leap to head home following Costa’s hesitation to collect the ball as the hapless goalkeeper looked on seeing his side fall behind on the night.
Morocco survive late Portugal surge
It was Portugal however started the better of the two sides following the break. However, Morocco could have easily doubled their lead in the 49th minute had Costa not thwarted Jawad El Yamiq from point blank range following Hakim Ziyech’s in swinging cross from the right wing.
Both Ronaldo and Joao Cancelo came on from the bench in the 51st minute to provide more attacking bite to the line up but the European side were denied time and again by Yassine Bounou in the Moroccan goal.
The 31-year-old made three crucial saves including one from Ronaldo in the later stages to register yet another clean sheet. Bounou has now conceded only once in tournament, the own goal against Canada in the group stages in the competition.
Moroccan skipper Roman Saiss had to be stretchered off right before the hour mark and it appears that his World Cup could be over.
Walid Cheddira was then sent off for a second yellow card in stoppage time for a soft foul on Joao Felix and the Portuguese should have equalized in the dying stages had Pepe not missed his header with the goal at his mercy.
Ultimately, Fernando Santos’ side couldn’t make their numerical advantage count as Morocco held on for a memorable win. This was also possibly Ronaldo’s last World Cup game as the 37-year-old was seen in tears in the tunnel following the loss.
Photo credit: IMAGO / Pro Shots
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