Morocco became the first African team ever to reach a World Cup semi-final as the Atlas Lions continued their fairytale run in Qatar with a 1-0 win over Portugal at Al Thumama Stadium on Saturday.
Walid Regragui’s side beat Spain on penalties in the last 16, but this was even more impressive and remarkable as Morocco ensured they would go where no other African nation had dared to go before.
Youssef En-Nesyri had the honor of scoring what will go down as one of the most important goals in African football history when he headed home just before the break.
Portugal piled on the pressure for much of the second half and introduced the reintroduced Cristiano Ronaldo, but their efforts fell short to the delight of the Morocco-dominated crowd.
Fernando Santos’ side unsurprisingly enjoyed early control, but clear-cut opportunities were lacking.
A buoyant Morocco looked dangerous on the break and the game came alive after half an hour – Selim Amallah headed home from a Romain Saiss cut-back and the lively Sofiane Boufalo fired past Diogo Costa from 25 yards.
So the Atlas Lions were good value for the lead when En-Nesyri towered over Costa to head home Yahya Attiat-Allah’s cross after 42 minutes.
Portugal was looking for an answer.
Bruno Fernandes hit the crossbar with a volley from the right wing and was subsequently denied a penalty after claiming he had been dragged back into the box.
Ronaldo’s introduction – just before Azzedine Ounahi wasted a decent chance – effectively began Portugal’s complete control.
But Portugal created precious little until crucial late saves from Yassine Bounou from Joao Felix and Ronaldo as Morocco bravely held on for another major result despite substitute Walid Cheddira being sent off for a second booking.
Morocco player ratings (4-3-3)
GK: Yassine Bounou – 8/10 – Commanded his box excellently and came up with some huge stops.
RB: Achraf Hakimi – 7/10 – A full-back renowned for his attacking, Hakimi showed off his defensive game with an excellently disciplined display.
CB: Jawad El Yamiq – 8/10 – Nayef Aguerd’s injury looked to be a hammer blow to Morocco’s chances, but El Yamiq stepped in and stepped up.
CB: Romain Saiss – 7/10 – Dug in deep and fought on for just under an hour after tweaking his hamstring in the last 16.
LB: Yahia Attiyat Allah – 9/10 – A near-perfect performance at both ends of the pitch, stretching the play in attack and locking up Portugal’s right side.
CM: Sofyan Amrabat – 7/10 – Remained calm and composed in a midfield battle that Morocco willingly gave up after the hour mark.
CM: Azzedine Ounahi – 8/10 – It’s easy to see why Luis Enrique was so impressed by the Angers midfielder. Displayed magic in his boots and twinkle in his toes.
CM: Selim Amallah – 8/10 – Flittered between the lines and was often leading counter attacks, dancing his way past his Portugal counterparts.
RW: Hakim Ziyech – 7/10 – Showed spurts of his creative genius but not for sustained periods, though again the gameplan made this understandable.
CF: Youssef En-Nesyri – 8/10 – Continually put himself about and made life tough for Portugal’s defenders. The leap for his goal seemed impossibly high. Now the first Moroccan player to score three goals at a World Cup.
LW: Sofiane Boufal – 7/10 – Like Ziyech, we only saw glimpses of brilliance.
Achraf Dari (57′ for Saiss) – 7/10 – Had big shoes to fill following Saiss’ injury but was magnificent.
Walid Cheddira (65′ for Amallah) – 2/10
Badr Banoune (65′ for En-Nesyri) – 6/10
Zakaria Aboukhlal (82′ for Ziyech) – 5/10
Yahya Jabrane (82′ for Boufal) – 5/10
Walid Regragui – 9/10 – Even in the face of injuries and key men needing to be replaced, Morocco did not wilt under the Portuguese pressure. Regragui will go down in history as an African football legend.
Portugal player ratings (4-3-3)
GK: Diogo Costa – 3/10 – Came and missed the telling cross which settled the tie.
RB: Diogo Dalot – 5/10 – Fought hard but was lacking in quality today. Subbed late on with an injury.
CB: Pepe – 5/10 – Portugal looked ropey defending counter attacks but that wasn’t due to Pepe or his dogged willingness.
CB: Ruben Dias – 4/10 – Weak in the challenge and lost out to En-Nesyri at the vital moment.
LB: Raphael Guerreiro – 4/10 – Loose touches further up the field and lost the run of En-Nesyri at the other. Hooked just after half-time.
CM: Ruben Neves – 5/10 – Was on the ball a lot due to Morocco’s desire to sit in deep and break. He was unable to suitably pick the lock.
CM: Otavio – 5/10 – Didn’t enjoy the same freedom to run forward through the defence as he had against Switzerland.
CM: Bernardo Silva – 4/10 – Shied away from possession and provided nearly nothing of note.
RW: Bruno Fernandes – 5/10 – Threw everything he had at Portugal but his ambitious crosses, passes and shots were mistimed.
CF: Goncalo Ramos – 5/10 – Much, much quieter than his blockbuster display against Switzerland. The ball didn’t quite stick to him the same way.
LW: Joao Felix – 6/10 – The man often on the end of Portugal’s early chances, but was usually restricted to shots from distance.
Cristiano Ronaldo (51′ for Neves) – 4/10 – Got into decent positions but wasn’t found enough. When he did find space, he fluffed his lines.
Joao Cancelo (51′ for Guerreiro) – 5/10
Rafael Leao (69′ for Ramos) – 4/10
Vitinha (69′ for Otavio) – 4/10
Ricardo Horta (79′ for Dalot) – 4/10
Fernando Santos – 4/10 – From hero to zero. Portugal were the complete inverse of the swashbuckling side that so easily dumped Switzerland out.