Youssef En-Nesyri got the only goal in a dramatic 1-0 win at Al Thumama and denied Portugal what would have been a place in the last four for the first time for 16 years.
Morocco, who had substitute Walid Cheddira sent off late, set up a Wednesday semifinal against either France or England at Al-Bayt Stadium, where they will again be supported by a fierce crowd who roared them past Portugal.
1. Morocco make history by shocking Portugal
Morocco struck a huge blow for African and Arab football by becoming the first team to reach a World Cup semifinal. Drawn in a group with Belgium and Croatia, and having changed their coach just months before the tournament, they were simply hoping for a run to the round of 16, but what they have achieved in Qatar is nothing short of remarkable.
Their shock victory at Al Thumama — just days after surprising Spain in the second round — was played out amid an atmosphere of loud whistles every time Portugal had the ball. And they had it a lot — touching 80% possession at different points in the game — but Morocco defended well and, particularly in the first half, made the most of their chances to break quickly.
En-Nesyri’s header just before half-time was helped by a mistake from Portugal goalkeeper Diogo Costa, who came for a cross he got nowhere near, but Morocco were so assured on the ball when they had it, they fully deserved their lead when it came.
Morocco ended the game without three of their usual back four on the pitch, but head to the semifinals having conceded just one goal in five games, and even that was an own goal against Canada.
Expect more ferocious defending against either France or England in the semifinals but, after beating Spain and Portugal, Morocco will be sensing another shock.
2. Yahya Attiyat-Allah typifies Moroccan spirit
In place of Mazraoui, coach Walid Regragui picked left-back Yahya Attiyat-Allah, a 27-year-old who has spent most of his career in Morocco except for a short spell in Greece. On paper it felt like a major downgrade but that wasn’t the case.
Attiyat-Allah, winning just his eighth cap, pushed Diogo Dalot — who had assists from right-back against South Korea and Switzerland — and got forward himself, crossing the ball for En-Nesyri to score just before half-time. Attiyat-Allah then almost made it 2-0 shortly afterward following a lung-bursting run from the edge of his own penalty area to get on the end of a rapid counter-attack.
With Dalot and Bruno Fernandes, Portugal’s right side has been a strength during the World Cup and not only did Attiyat-Allah cancel out the threat, he also created one of his own. If Mazraoui is fit for the semifinal, it might give Regragui a selection headache, albeit one he’s no doubt happy to have.
3. Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo blunted
Portugal began the match having averaged three goals in Qatar but despite having the majority of the ball against Morocco, they couldn’t make it count. Eight different players have scored for Fernando Santos’ team at the World Cup and it was the wrong moment for almost all of them to have an off day.
Fernandes hit the crossbar, while Joao Felix and Goncalo Ramos both had good chances, but the slick attacking swagger that had torn Switzerland to pieces was missing. Bernardo Silva was sloppy on the ball and Fernandes was often crowded out; Dalot was a threat from right-back against South Korea and Switzerland but only occasionally found the room to get forward here.
Portugal have been both good and bad at this tournament and this was a bad day, although Morocco deserve great credit for making it so hard to create anything of note.
Cristiano Ronaldo, again named on the bench, came on early in the second half to equal FIFA’s official record for the most-capped international men’s player with 196, but even he couldn’t find one last great World Cup moment. If this is the last we see of one of history’s great players on this stage then it was a very meek way to bow out.
When asked about his decision not to start his captain, Santos said he wouldn’t change it with the benefit of hindsight: “I think this was a team which played very well against Switzerland,” he said. “Cristiano Ronaldo is a great player, he came in when we thought it was necessary, so no regrets.”
Portugal had the players to reach a first semifinal since 2006, but not the performance.
Player ratings (1 = worst, 10 = best)
Morocco: Yassine Bounou 7, Achraf Hakimi 7, Yahia Attiyat-Allah 8, Romain Saiss 7, Jawad El Yamiq 7, Sofyan Amrabat 8, Azzedine Ounahi 7, Selim Amallah 7, Hakim Ziyech 7, Sofiane Boufal 7, Youssef En Nesyri 7.
Best and worst performers
BEST: Yahia Attiyat Allah
Came into the team for the injured Mazraoui and was outstanding at left-back, making the goal for En-Nesyri.
WORST: Diogo Costa
The Portugal goalkeeper made an awful mistake to gift Morocco their goal.
Highlights and notable moments
Youssef En-Nesyri scored a famous goal for Morocco in the first half.
MOROCCO TAKES THE LEAD VS PORTUGAL 🔥🇲🇦 pic.twitter.com/X9qbiJeCBP
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) December 10, 2022
Ronaldo’s reaction after Morocco’s goal 😅 pic.twitter.com/8fg4pyWp4W
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) December 10, 2022
And Cristiano Ronaldo could do nothing about it.
Cristiano Ronaldo was in tears as he walked down the tunnel after Portugal’s loss. pic.twitter.com/FS6C7WMxbd
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) December 10, 2022
After the match: What the players and managers said
Portugal coach Fernando Santos: “It took us a long time to get into the game. The players wanted to, but they couldn’t. The players were very confident, they wanted it a lot, but the truth is that we weren’t able to show all of our game. We couldn’t make goal-scoring chances. Leaving the World Cup always hurts.”
Morocco’s Bilal El Khannouss: “We feel very happy at the moment — the first African team to be in the semifinal. We did it for Africa and all the Moroccan people. It was a very difficult game. We knew that. We fought for each ball and we are very happy with the win, and it’s very important for us and for the future.”
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information)
– Entering the match, Morocco were on a nine-match unbeaten streak in all competitions: the second-longest among teams still in the World Cup. Croatia, 11 (6-0-5, W-L-D); Morocco 9 (6-0-3); England, 5 (3-0-2.)
– En-Nesyri’s goal was the second headed goal ever scored by Morocco in World Cup history. The other was also by En Nesyri, in the 2018 World Cup vs Spain.
– Cristiano Ronaldo tied FIFA’s official men’s all-time appearance record with Kuwait’s Bader Al-Mutawa on 196. Though, according to RSSSF, Soh Chin Ann (Malaysia) holds the all-time men’s record with 219.
– Morocco’s Sofyan Amrabat has won possession 41 times at the 2022 World Cup — the most of any player in the tournament.
– Morocco had 27% possession in the game but become the first African side into the World Cup semifinals.
– Portugal are 1-7-0 (W-L-D) when trailing at half-time at the World Cup. Their lone win came vs. North Korea in 1966 (5-3.)
– Morocco’s pre-tournament odds to make the semifinal were 35-1 at Caesars Sportsbook That was tied for seventh longest odds in the field.
Morocco: Incredibly, a World Cup semifinal against England or France is next on the agenda at the Al Bayt Stadium on Wednesday at 10 p.m. local time / 2 p.m. ET.
Portugal: Cristiano Ronaldo and his side are out and on the plane home.