Morocco beats Portugal to reach World Cup semi-finals
Morocco became the first African nation in history to qualify for the semi-finals of the World Cup when they stunned Portugal 1-0 at Al-Thumama Stadium on Saturday night.
Youssef En-Nesyri scored a brilliant header in the 42nd minute after a running cross from Yahia Attiyat Allah 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 wrote their name in the history books to reach the last four in Qatar.
Ronaldo on the bench
Cristiano Ronaldo was again named as a substitute after Portugal’s 6-1 win over Switzerland in the round of 16 and it was Portugal who started the better of the two teams on the night.
The Seleccao seemed calm in possession and kept their opponents at bay, but they rarely opened a very organized Moroccan back line.
The African side were taking deep pressure, but every time they let the ball go they ran into the Portugal penalty area, dragging the opposing defenders out of position to create space and crosses from either wing to clear the goal. Diogo Costa in the goal test.
Their approach worked as En-Nesyri soared highest with a huge jump to head home after Costa’s hesitation to collect the ball as the hapless goalkeeper watched his side fall behind on the night.
Morocco survives the late wave of Portugal
However, it was Portugal that started the better of the two teams after the break. However, Morocco could have easily doubled their lead in the 49e minute Costa had not thwarted Jawad El Yamiq from a point after a swinging cross from Hakim Ziyech from the right wing.
Both Ronaldo and Joao Cancelo came from the bench in the 51st minute to bring more attacking power to the line-up, but the European side was denied again 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 another clean sheet. Bounou now only conceded once in the tournament, the own goal against Canada in the group stage of the competition.
Moroccan skipper Roman Saiss had to be carried off just before the hour mark and it looks like his World Cup could be over.
Walid Cheddira was then shown a second yellow card in stoppage time for a soft foul on Joao Felix and the Portuguese should have equalized in the dying minutes had Pepe not missed his header and the goal was at his mercy.
In the end, Fernando Santos’ team could not count their numerical advantage for Morocco held out for a memorable win. This may also have been Ronaldo’s last World Cup match, as the 37-year-old was seen in tears in the tunnel after the loss.
Photo credit: IMAGO / Pro Shots
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