History makers Morocco stun Portugal to reach World Cup semis
What you need to know:
- Youssef En-Nesyri's first-half header secured a historic win for Morocco, who will play defending champions France or England for a place in the final.
- Morocco have surpassed the three other African sides to reach the quarter-finals -- Cameroon in 1990, Senegal in 2002 and Ghana in 2010.
A brave and poised Morocco wrote football history on Saturday becoming the first nation from Africa to qualify for the semi-final of a Fifa World Cup.
Showing no fear, the Atlas Lions, backed by a raucous following, mauled Portugal 1-0 at the Al Thumama Stadium, 12km from central Doha in their quarterfinal match.
Sevilla forward Youssef en-Nesyri rose high to finish off a sweeping Atlas Lions move with a powerful header in the 42 minute.
Substitute Badr Benoun could have doubled the scoring in the historic win for Morocco after he found himself alone with the Portugal goalkeeper Diogo Costa in the dying moments of the eight minutes added but he shot straight at the goalie.
But it did not matter as the expectant crowd rooting for Morocco in the 44,198-seater who attended the fixture ruptured in ecstasy when Argentine referee Facundo Tello blew the final whistle.
“Morocco, Morocco,” they screamed.
“This is history. The first time Africa is qualifying for the semifinal,” a fan brandishing the Moroccan flag shouted in front of the press tribunal at the stadium.
After decades of trying, the moment had come and the raw emotions in the stadium told it all.
Cameroon (1990), Senegal (2002) and Ghana (2010) had all come close but fallen at the quarterfinal stage.
“Some people will say that this is a miracle. It is not a miracle. We have beaten the best teams in the world to reach where we are. This is through hard work and having self-belief,” said Morocco coach Walid Regragui.
He added: “We managed to defend very well. We are the best team in terms of our desire and tactics. We also had the crowd. That energy from the Arab and African crowd pushed us. The players have done us proud. We need to recover now.”
Portugal were looking to make their third semi-final appearance. They had won all their previous World Cup quarter-finals, 5-3 against Korea DPR in England 1966 and 3-1 on penalties after a 0-0 draw with England in German 2006.
They were coming from the biggest win in the round of 16, a 6-1 mauling of Switzerland, and had in their line-up ha- trick hero Goncalo Ramos.
The Portuguese dominated possession, 67 to 33 per cent but troubled little the sturdy Moroccan defence that had only let in one goal in their last four matches in Qatar.
Portugal coach Fernando Santos could only say: “We need to give credit to the Morocco team. It is not fair for us to lose but that is football. We knew the challenges we would face from them particularly defensively and knew we needed to be creative and challenge for the ball and score goals."
The organised Atlas Lions were dangerous on the counter and they showed it in the 34th minute, Selim Amallah firing over the bar following a neat move from deep.
Portugal were then stunned by En-Nesyri goal minutes to half time and never really recovered even after throwing in their long-time hero Cristiano Ronaldo and rising forward Rafael Leao.
The cheering crowd played their 12th man to the hilt, a stranger in Qatar would have thought Morocco were the home team.
They showed their feelings for Ronaldo, roundly booing him when he was introduced into the game midway through the second half.
The club-less Ronaldo could have had the last laugh racing through the Moroccan rear guard deep, deep into the second half but his rasping shot was well dealt with by the excellent Seville goalkeeper Yassine Bounou, who did not put a foot wrong the entire evening.
Onwards Morocco match. They will face either England or France in the semi-final on Wednesday at Al Bayt Stadium.