Morocco’s remarkable World Cup campaign has reached new heights after the Atlas Lions beat Portugal 1-0 to become the first Arab and African country to ever reach the tournament’s semi-finals stage.
Youssef En Nesyri’s soaring 42nd-minute header proved the difference for coach Walid Regragui’s side, whose resolute defensive display on Saturday capped a remarkable showing in Qatar which has now seen them play more than seven hours of football without conceding to an opposition player.
Even Walid Cheddira’s red card in the third minute of extra time could not take the shine off their against-the-odds victory, which sparked an outpouring of joy among the tens of thousands of Morocco fans packed inside the Al Thumama Stadium.
Highly fancied Portugal, who had dominated the ball throughout, proved unable to unlock their rivals’ backline despite all their possession and the summoning of record-scorer Cristiano Ronaldo from the substitutes bench shortly after half-time.
The five-time world player of the year is set to finish his career without capturing the World Cup or ever getting to the final, but his appearance off the bench did see him become the joint all-time leading appearance-maker in men’s international football with 196 caps.
Morocco, whose improbable run has generated an outpouring of pride in the Arab world during the first World Cup to be staged in the Middle East, will now face either England or France in the semi-finals on December 14.
Argentina and Croatia go head-to-head in the last four the day before.- Al Jazeera