Moroccan ecstacy as Youseff en Nesyri's towering header breaks Portuguese hearts marching into semis
Updated: Dec 14, 2022
Morocco shocked Portugal 1-0 in the Al Thumama Stadium to advance to the FIFA World Cup semifinals, becoming the first African team to do so.
These World Cup finals have a history of having tight, cautious first halves, with neither team eager to take chances. This game was no exception, with Morocco displaying tremendous positional discipline to neutralize Portugal's numerous creative threats. Since Nayef Aguerd and Noussair Mazraoui were both injured, Walid Regragui was forced to make changes to the defense that had only allowed one goal in their previous eight games.
Before halftime, substitute center-back, Jawad El Yamiq was summoned into action and vitally diverted João Félix's shot wide of the goal, and it was an intervention that would be rewarded. The Atlas Lions took control of the game and pulled ahead as halftime approached after successfully stopping Portugal for the majority of the first half. When Yahia Attiyat Allah crossed the ball, Diogo Costa misread it and missed it, allowing Youssef En-Nesyri to tower over him and nod the ball into the empty net.
To get back into the game, Fernando Santos' team would now need to get past the strongest backline in the competition. Bruno Fernandes came close with a magnificent effort that looped over Yassine Bounou, but the crossbar stopped him. However, with few other options for attack, Santos turned to his captain and introduced Cristiano Ronaldo for his 196th international appearance for men's football, tying a world record.
Even with Ronaldo on the field, Fernandes has shown to be Portugal's most dangerous attacker. The Manchester United midfielder nearly missed the crossbar with a strong effort from the edge of the box. A magnificent Moroccan rearguard completely crushed a team that had appeared so fluid in their devastation of Switzerland, thus any dangers were brief. Bounou was always ready to step up and take the lead whenever a weakness might be exploited, executing a spectacular save to stop Félix as time ran out.
The Atlas Lions' tenacious defense, encouraged on by a raucous crowd, helped them achieve history by becoming the first Arab country and qualifier from the CAF region to go to the World Cup semifinals, setting up another exciting matchup with either France or England. With Portugal as their most recent victim, they have now failed to advance past the semifinals for four straight finals appearances. The Euro 2016 champions are entering a new era as seasoned players Ronaldo and Pepe approach the end of their careers.