Morocco vs Portugal 1-0: En-Nesyri Header Makes History for Africa

It took 92 years to finally see an African team make it to the World Cup Semi Finals for the first time. The feat was finally accomplished by Morocco, who defeated Portugal at the Al Thumama Stadium on Saturday with a lone goal from Youssef En-Nesyri. 

The Selecao failed to draw level as neither Joao Felix, nor Cristiano Ronaldo, nor a sumptuous Bruno Fernandes could put the ball past a Yassine Bounou in tip top shape. Overall, the two sides were separated by their goalkeepers’ performance as Portugal’s Diogo Costa was heavily to blame in the occasion of the only goal of the match.

And so, while the African continent, as well as the whole Arab-speaking world, can celebrate Morocco’s historical accomplishment, one cannot refrain from reporting Cristiano Ronaldo’s last, sad dance on the world stage. 

CR7 was benched by coach Fernando Santos once again, leaving room to the young starlet Goncalo Ramos. But the Benfica striker failed to replicate his shining performance from a few days ago, leaving many questions open as of what would have happened if the Genius of Madeira was deployed from the start today.  

Portugal’s approach what similar to the one taken by Spain against the Moroccans, with ball possession and fast circulation, but the result was the same. Walid Regragui’s organized defense left no room to the Selecao, who struggled to ignite Goncalo Ramos upfront. 

Bruno Fernandes’ long range passes seemed to be Portugal’s only valid option, with Joao Felix very active on the front line. The Atletico Madrid starlet was the first to create some troubles to Bounou, with an early header at the near post that was saved by the Sevilla shot-stopper.

Morocco showed themselves around Diogo Costa’s area only after 34 minutes. They built a rapid team effort as Sofiane Boufal exchanged with Yahia Attiyath Allah, who in turn served Selim Amallah, but the 26-year-old’s conclusion was wide off target. 

Still, the Moroccans drew first blood a few minutes later as En-Nesyri took advantage of a gigantic blunder from the Portuguese goalkeeper. From an Attiyath Allah left-side cross in the middle of the box, Diogo Costa jumped with incredibly wrong timing, leaving En-Nesyri enough room to head the ball home.  

Portugal had an immediate reaction but Bruno Fernandes’ beautiful volley from the right hand side crashed into the crossbar. 

Morocco had another chance early in the second half again with an En-Nesyri header but this time Diogo Costa was alert and used his reflexes to push back the Sevilla striker’s attempt.

From then on, the Selecao was in full control as they desperately looked for an equalizer. Fernando Santos resorted to the heavy weaponry as he finally sent in Cristiano Ronaldo for Ruben Neves, switching to a 4-2-4 setup. He eventually also added Milan’s Rafael Leao to have more firepower on the left attacking side. 

Morocco, on the other hand, lost their captain Romain Saiss to an injury, which opened a hole at center back that his substitute Achraf Dari struggled to cover for. Regragui’s substitutions were obviously aimed at reinforcing the back-line. The Atlas Lions defended themselves with nine man with the only Walid Cheddira upfront – which honestly was not the best option one could hope for as the Bari player was as wasteful as he was in the game against Spain.  

The match became a siege to Bounou’s goal but the Sevilla custodian was phenomenal as he finger-tipped away Joax Felix’s curl on 82 minutes, then kept his cool during stoppage time as he blocked CR7’s only meaningful shot. 

Cheddira did everything he could to make life more difficult for his own side as he picked two yellow cards in the space of three minutes, leaving Morocco with one man less as they weathered Portugal’s final onslaught. Substitute Zakaria Aboukhlal was also to blame as he failed to put the ball past Diogo Costa from a one-on-one fast break.

Those mistakes could have costed the Atlas Lions much if 39-year-old Pepe headed the ball on target at the last gasp from a Rafael Leao cross. The old warrior equalizing for his side would have made for a great football story, but history was meant to be made in a different way today.

As referee Facundo Tello blew for full time, Cristiano Ronaldo bowed out of the World Cup likely for good, while an African team took a seat at the elite table of the last four for the first time.  


December 10, 2022 – FIFA World Cup Quarter Finals

SCORER: 42′ En-Nesyri

MOROCCO (4-3-3): Bounou; Hakimi, Saiss (58′ Dari), El Yamiq, Attiat-Allah; Ounahi, Amrabat, Amallah (64′ Benoun); Ziyech (81′ Aboukhlal), En-Nesyri (64′ Cheddira), Boufal (81′ Jabrane) (Munir, Tagnaouti, Sabiri, Chair, Ez Abde, El Khannouss, Hamdallah, Zaroury) Coach: Regragui
PORTUGAL (4-3-3): Diogo Costa; Diogo Dalot (79′ Ricardo Horta), Pepe, Ruben Dias, Raphael Guerreiro (51′ Joao Cancelo); Bernardo Silva, Ruben Neves (51′ Cristiano Ronaldo), Otavio (69′ Vitinha); Bruno Fernandes, Goncalo Ramos (69′ Rafael Leao), Joao Felix (Rui Patrício, José Sá, António Silva, Joao Palhinha, William Carvalho, Joao Mario, Matheus Nunes, André Silva) Coach: Fernando Santos
REFEREE: Mr. Tello (Argentina)
NOTES: Yellow Cards: Dari (M), Vitinha (P); Red Card: Cheddira (M); Added Time: 1st Half 2′, 2nd Half 8′
Follow us on Google News for more updates on Serie A and Italian football