Morocco reaches World Cup semifinals in victory over Portugal

Morocco reaches World Cup semifinals in victory over Portugal

Africa now has a team in World Cup semifinals. So does the Arab world. Morocco delivered a seminal moment in the nearly 100-year history of soccer’s biggest tournament, beating Cristiano Ronaldo and his Portugal team 1-0 Saturday in the another shocking result in the first World Cup staged in the Middle East. While Ronaldo, a tearful man, headed straight down the tunnel — and perhaps into international retirement — Morocco’s players waved the flag of their country as they embraced their fans.

“Pinch Me, I’m Dreaming,” Yassine Bounou, Morocco goalkeeper, said. “Morocco is prepared to face any challenge in the world. We have changed the mentality for the generations that follow us. They will be able to see that Moroccan players can make miracles. “

Youssef En-Nesyri scored the winning goal in the 42nd minute to continue an improbable run that has generated an outpouring of pride in the Arab world, inspiring displays in Arab identity from fans in different countries. Africa also rejoices at having a nation reach the level that is usually only reached by European or South American nations. Cameroon (1990), Senegal (2002) and Ghana (2010) all reached the quarterfinals but got no further.

Jawad El Yamiq of Morocco celebrates after the World Cup quarterfinal match between Morocco and Portugal at Al Thumama Stadium on December 10, 2022, in Doha, Qatar.
Jawad El Yamiq of Morocco celebrates after the World Cup quarterfinal match between Morocco and Portugal at Al Thumama Stadium on December 10, 2022, in Doha, Qatar.

Getty Images – ANP

Morocco has broken through, setting up a semifinal match against France, which defeated England 2-1 later Saturday.

The 37-year-old Ronaldo, one of soccer’s greatest players but now a fading force, didn’t start for the second straight game and came on as a substitute in the 51st minute. He missed his chance to equalize in the final minute.

The five-time world player award winner is set to end his career without ever reaching the final or winning the World Cup. After the final whistle, he walked straight off the field, being briefly stopped by two Morocco players who wanted to shake his hand, and a spectator who confronted and tried to comfort him as he headed to locker room.

If this is the end for Ronaldo at international level, he’ll finish with 118 goals — a record in men’s soccer — and a European Championship title but not soccer’s biggest prize. He only got as far as the semifinals at the World Cup, in 2006.

” Our players are distressed,” said Fernando Santos, Portugal coach. He shrugged off questions about the future of his team and said that he didn’t regret starting Ronaldo. “Cristiano, a great player, came on when we felt it was necessary. But no, no regrets. “

There’s no reason why this Morocco squad — coached by French-born Walid Regragui and containing 14 players born abroad — cannot go all the way to the title. They topped a group that included second-ranked Belgium and fellow semifinalist Croatia and have now taken down two of Europe’s heavyweights in Spain — after a penalty shootout in the round of 16 — and Portugal in the quarterfinals.

“What’s important for future generations is we’ve shown that it is possible for an African team to get to the semifinals of the World Cup. Or the final, why not? According to Reuters, Regragui said this to reporters.

“I was asked if we could win the World Cup in a press conference three to four matches ago. I replied, “Why not?” We can dream. Why should we not dream? You can’t achieve anything if you don’t dream. It doesn’t cost anything. “

Morocco’s defense has yet to concede a goal by an opposition player at this year’s World Cup — the only one it has allowed was an own-goal — and it stifled a Portugal team which beat Switzerland 6-1 in the last 16 to thrust itself among the favorites.

In a game that was played against the backdrop of passionate cheers and whistles from Morocco’s fans, the team relied almost entirely on counterattacks to score and even scored from one. A cross was made from the left. En-Nesyri jumped between Portugal’s goalkeeper Diogo Costa, and defender Ruben Dias to score the empty goal.

Ronaldo, who will be 41 by the time of the 2026 World Cup in the United States, Mexico and Canada, barely got a touch of the ball until stoppage time when he got in behind Morocco’s defense off a long ball forward. Bounou saved his low shot.

“I was afraid that he might play,” Regragui stated of Ronaldo, “because he can score from nothing.” “

Substitute Walid Cheddira was shown a red card for Morocco early in stoppage time for collecting a second yellow card in as many minutes. After Pepe, Portugal’s center back, dribbled wide from the six-yard box in the sixth of added time in which Ronaldo was unable to control his emotions, he fell to his knees in despair.

While Lionel Messi will be playing with Argentina in the semifinals, the other soccer greats of this generation will not.

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