history made | 

Graeme Souness on Morocco’s heroes as they end Ronaldo’s World Cup dream

Youssef En-Nesyri’s header three minutes before half-time was the only goal of a 1-0 victory.

Morocco's Youssef En-Nesyri, center, celebrates after scoring his side's first goal during the World Cup quarterfinal soccer match between Morocco and Portugal, at Al Thumama Stadium in Doha, Qatar, Saturday, Dec. 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)© AP/PA Images

Kevin PalmerSunday World

Graeme Souness saluted Morocco's history makers last night, as they beat Portugal to become the first African nation to seal a place in the World Cup semi-finals.

Youssef En-Nesyri’s header three minutes before half-time was the only goal of a 1-0 victory that was greeted with jubilation by the massed ranks of Morocco fans in the Al Thumama Stadium.

Cristiano Ronaldo was again left out of the starting line-up but came on early in the second half for his 196th international appearance, equalling the men’s world record of Kuwait’s Badr Al-Mutawa.

But he barely made an impact and ended what will surely be his final World Cup in tears as Morocco battled with energy and skill to achieve what previous quarter-finalists Cameroon, Senegal and Ghana could not.

"Portugal thought this could be an easy night, but Morocco made it difficult for them and it is amazing to be here to witness this moment of history,” said Scotland and Liverpool legend Souness.

"Their closing down was so impressive and this is not as big a shock as you might think.

"This Morocco side were fantastic as they beat Spain in the last round and now they have done it again.

"People will ask questions about Portugal and will say Romaldo should have played, but this was not all about them. This is a night to salute Morocco.

"They were fighting for a cause in this game. This was more than just a set of players playing a football match.

"They knew they could make history against Portugal and they have gone and done it. All credit to them.

"And don't under estimate this Mororcco team when they play the semi-final. They are tough to play against and will give anyone a game./

"They are fighting at a level that is hard to match and you have to admire what they have achieved.

"Forever more, they will be the first African team to reach the semi-finals at a World Cup. What an achievement.”

Portugal made only one change from the 6-1 victory over Switzerland, Wolves midfielder Ruben Neves replacing William Carvalho, while Nayef Aguerd and Noussair Mazraoui were both injured for Morocco so Jawad El Yamiq and Yahya Attiat-Allah started.

Despite swathes of empty seats – fans reported chaotic scenes outside the stadium – the Moroccan supporters in the ground made it a rousing atmosphere from the start.

Deafening whistles greeted Portugal possession, and there was an early escape for the Atlas Lions when Joao Felix’s header from a free-kick was pushed away by Bono.

En-Nesyri gave notice of his threat with a header from a corner and Felix went close again with a deflected effort that flew just over the bar but the pace of Morocco’s play and their willingness to attack in numbers gave them real impetus.

An impressive passing move led to the goal, with En-Nesyri producing a mighty leap to beat Diogo Costa to the ball and power a header into the net, causing bedlam in the stands.

Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo, right, reacts as he walks off the field after their loss in the World Cup quarterfinal soccer match against Morocco, at Al Thumama Stadium in Doha, Qatar, Saturday, Dec. 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)© AP/PA Images

Portugal almost managed a quick reply through Bruno Fernandes’ audacious over-the-shoulder volley but the ball smacked against the bar.

It took only six minutes of the second half, during which Costa did well to beat away Hakim Ziyech’s free-kick, for Portugal boss Fernando Santos to turn to Ronaldo and Manchester City’s Joao Cancelo.

Morocco were forced into a change with captain Romain Saiss unable to continue because of a troublesome hamstring problem and Achraf Dari taking his place.

Portugal probed for an opening and Goncalo Ramos, the hat-trick hero against Switzerland but largely invisible here, headed wide before Fernandes was just off target with another well-struck effort.

Felix had been Portugal’s biggest danger and he drew a brilliant one-handed save from Bono with a shot from the edge of the box, while Pepe should have scored with the final chance of the match.

Morocco were reduced to 10 men in injury time when Walid Cheddira picked up two quick yellow cards but it was a minor blip on a historic day.

There will now be doubts over Ronaldo's international future, after he left the field in tears in what may have been the final World Cup appearance for the 37-year-old.

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