Morocco has enjoyed widespread support as the first African and Arab nation still competing in the World Cup and advancing to the semi-finals.
Morocco and Portugal kicked off a decisive and intense match to secure a spot at the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 semi-finals on Saturday.
Hosted at the Al Thumama Stadium, the quarter-final match was a major one for both teams, though even more so for Morocco, which is the only Arab team to have ever reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup; in the first held World Cup in an Arab country.
The Morocco-Portugal game was the eighth and final match to be staged at the white ‘gahfiya’ venue.
The Atlas Lions made history by becoming the first Arab and African team to go to the semi-finals. Their journey to the 2022 World Cup has inspired football fans in the area and sparked an Arab unity wave in the region and worldwide.
A largely dominant Morocco crowd filled the 44,400 capacity stadium, which was flooded with the sounds of whistles and cheers determinant on when Morocco was in possession of the ball.
Morocco, ranked 22nd, entered Saturday’s game as underdogs, playing a world-renowned ninth-ranked Portugal.
Morocco takes over in the first 45
With a strong start, Morocco began to dominate the game and evidently grew more confident. The first half witnessed a strong attack from the Atlas Lions.
Play took a brief pause 40 minutes in after Portugal’s Goncalo Ramos was injured by Azzedine Ounahi’s forceful challenge. He had three goals against Switzerland, but this afternoon he did not even touch the ball once in the first half.
Shortly after, Al Thumama stadium would witness an impassioned goal from Morocco in the 43rd minute.
Youssef En-Nesyri’s goal set the stadium on fire with chants and an overflowing of emotions.
Yahia Attiyat Allah sent a looping cross into the Portugal penalty area after Morocco pushed the ball down the left wing. En-Nesyri pulled off a huge leap to put a magnificent header beyond the helpless keeper.
In the added time, Fernades was brought down in the Moroccan box and Portugal abortively appealed for a penalty. Shortly after, Morocco broke upfield in a three-on-three situation, however left-back Yahia Attiyat Allah shot wide.
Morocco parks the bus
Neither team made any personnel changes with the start of the second half. During minute 51, however, Portugal made a double substitution with Rubben Neves and Raphael Guerreiro replaced by Cristiano Ronaldo and Joao Cancelo.
The second half was dominated by Portuguese attack and Moroccan defence.
Portugal put more pressure on the game, but Morocco defended fiercely, as they have done the entire tournament. Y
Yahia Attiyat Allah, who has excelled at left-back for the African team, dislodged Diogo Dalot with a superb challenge at minute 60.
Ronaldo attempted a goal in the second half, which was denied by goalkeeper and fan favourite Yassine Bounou.
With that win, Morocco becomes the first African and Arab team to ever reach a World Cup semi-final. They will now go on to face the winner of England and France’s quarter-final clash.