Morocco 1-0 Portugal: Atlas Lions make history as En-Nesyri gives Africa its first World Cup semi-finalist
Portugal's galaxy of stars were no match for valiant Morocco's resilience as the Atlas Lions made World Cup history in Qatar.
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 saw off Spain on penalties in the last 16, but this was even more impressive and notable as Morocco ensured they will go where no other African nation has ventured before.
Youssef En-Nesyri had the honour of scoring what will go down as one of the most important goals in the history of African football as he powered in a header just before the break.
Portugal piled pressure on for much of the second half, introducing the again-benched Cristiano Ronaldo, but their efforts fell short much to the delight of the Morocco-dominated crowd.
Fernando Santos' side unsurprisingly enjoyed early control, but clear opportunities were non-existent.
Encouraged, Morocco looked dangerous on the break and the contest livened up after the half-hour mark – Selim Amallah blazed over from Romain Saiss' cut-back and the lively Sofiane Boufal shot at Diogo Costa from 25 yards.
As such, the Atlas Lions were good value for the lead when En-Nesyri towered above Costa to head in Yahya Attiat-Allah's cross after 42 minutes.
Portugal looked for a response.
Bruno Fernandes' dipping right-wing volley struck the crossbar, and he was subsequently denied a penalty after claiming to be tugged back in the box.
Ronaldo's introduction – just before Azzedine Ounahi wasted a decent chance – effectively ushered in complete Portugal control.
But Portugal created precious little until crucial late Yassine Bounou saves from Joao Felix and Ronaldo, as Morocco valiantly held on for another momentous result despite substitute Walid Cheddira's stoppage-time dismissal for a second booking.
What does it mean? Potential end of an era for Portugal and emotional Ronaldo
Ronaldo was not the only story here, that is clear. This was Morocco's day.
However, Ronaldo's selection among the substitutes again and his lack of impact off the bench only further highlighted how this must be the end of the road for him at the international level.
At full-time, the all-time leading international goalscorer was in floods of tears – at 37, we probably will not see him in another major tournament for Portugal.
As a team, Portugal have been unable to reach the last four in three successive major tournaments since their Euro 2016 triumph.
Ounahi a breath of fresh air
En-Nesyri will get the headlines for obvious reasons, but Ounahi deserves real acclaim. The youngster was a delight to watch.
On the ball he was generally exceptional, completing all of his three dribble attempts, while his two key passes was only bettered by one of his team-mates. The 22-year-old's performance was immensely mature.
Ramos goes from hero to zero
Devastating against Switzerland after replacing Ronaldo, Benfica forward Ramos had little luck imposing himself against the Morocco defence.
He only managed a single attempt at goal, an off-target header, and created zero chances for his team-mates.
Key Opta Stats:
- Portugal have been eliminated from a World Cup quarter-final for the first time in their history, having progressed from their two other matches at this stage (5-3 v North Korea in 1966 and on penalties v England in 2006).
- Ronaldo has failed to score in all eight of his knockout stage appearances at the World Cup (inc. third place play-off), going 570 minutes without scoring and taking 27 shots in the process.
- Morocco have kept four clean sheets at this World Cup, one more than they had recorded in their first 16 games in the competition between 1970 and 2018.
- Bounou, who made his 50th appearance for Morocco, became the first African goalkeeper to record three clean sheets in a single edition of the World Cup.
- En-Nesyri has scored three goals from just three shots on target at this tournament and has now scored more World Cup goals than any other Morocco player in their history (3).
Incredibly, Morocco go on to the World Cup semi-finals. They will face either England or France at Al Bayt Stadium on Wednesday.