In remarkable fashion, the surprise package of the tournament Morocco have once again taken advantage of their chances and defended superbly, claiming a 1-0 victory over Portugal in their quarter-final matchup at Al Thumama Stadium.
With this win, they are the first African side to claim a spot in a World Cup semi-final in the tournaments history, continuing their fairy-tale run.
After their demolition job against Switzerland earlier in the week, Portugal were expected to be on the front foot in this contest, and in its earliest stages this looked like an apt description of how the 90 minutes would pan out.
They controlled the ball for much of the game, holding 73% of the possession and completing 567 accurate passes for the game. Morocco looked to be in for a difficult evening based on the way the Portuguese outfit presented themselves initially.
However, Portugal should have expected Morocco to push them to the limit on the counter attack and this was their exact approach. Fighting their way forward every time they gained possession, the African outfit managed nine attempts on goal and looked dangerous moving forward.
Portugal just weren’t able to convert in attack, and they eventually paid the price late in the first half with Morocco taking full advantage of their chances on the counter.
With defender Yahia Attiyat Allah finding space to sending in a cross, Youssef En-Nesyri soared through the air. With opposition keeper Diogo Costa off his line, the header hit the back of the net to give the Moroccans the lead in what proved to be a pivotal moment.
Portugal had plenty of chances to hit back in the second half, but the Moroccans defended excellently and kept their opponents out with great success.
A double yellow card to attacker Walid Cheddira saw Morocco go down to 10 men with around five minutes left in stoppage time. It gave Portugal a glimmer of hope in the dying minutes, but what was perhaps their best chance of the game ended up being squandered with a minute to go, as veteran centre-back Pepe misplaced a header that would’ve sent the game into extra time.
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With this loss, footballing legend Cristiano Ronaldo’s World Cup dream has presumably come to an end. One of the most prolific international goalscorers of all time, Ronaldo was in search of a World Cup to add to his UEFA Euro trophy and multiple honours at club level. This wasn’t to be, although the fact that he was unable to claim the trophy does not diminish his incredible career in the slightest.
Regardless, it was Morocco’s night. The tournament underdogs have surprised us constantly in this tournament, and have claimed a well-deserved spot in the semi-finals of this tournament. Knocking out an extremely strong Spain side was impressive enough, but this win has further proven that they are able to hang with the best at this World Cup.
Quite incredibly, the Moroccans have still only conceded one goal at this tournament, a own goal in their 2-1 win over Canada. With clean-sheets against Croatia, Belgium, Spain, and now Portugal, they have defended unbelievably, and their goalkeeper Yassine Bounou has been unbeatable.
Morocco now have a chance to shock the world once again. They will take on France in a World Cup semi-final, after they knocked out England in their quarter-final matchup. After what we have seen from the Moroccans, anything is possible. They have performed against brilliant sides time and time again, and it is clear now that this team and its fans can dare to dream.
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