Morocco Stuns Portugal, Ronaldo

World Cup semifinals will include an African national team for the first time
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 10, 2022 12:15 PM CST
Morocco Stuns Portugal, Ronaldo
Morocco's Youssef En-Nesyri , left, heads the ball to score the opening goal next to Portugal's goalkeeper Diogo Costa, right, during the World Cup quarterfinal match on Saturday in Qatar.   (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Morocco became the first African country to reach the World Cup semifinals by beating Portugal 1-0 on Saturday, likely ending Cristiano Ronaldo's chances of ever winning soccer's biggest prize. Youssef En-Nesyri scored the winning goal in the 42nd minute to continue Morocco's improbable run that has generated an outpouring of pride in the Arab world during the first World Cup to be staged in the Middle East. The 37-year-old Ronaldo, one of soccer's greatest players, didn't start for the second straight game but came on as a substitute in the 51st minute and missed a chance to equalize in stoppage time. The five-time world player of the year has never captured the World Cup or ever made the final, the AP reports. He headed off the field right after the final whistle and was crying as he walked down the tunnel.

It is a seminal moment in World Cup history, with an African nation finally advancing to the levels typically only reached by European or South American teams. Cameroon (1990), Senegal (2002), and Ghana (2010) all reached the quarterfinals but got no further. And off the field, this Morocco squad—coached by French-born Walid Regragui and containing 14 players born abroad—is uniting the Arab world, inspiring displays in Arab identity from fans in different countries. Morocco will play either France or England in the semifinals. There's no reason Morocco cannot go all the way to the title, after topping a group that included second-ranked Belgium and fellow semifinalist Croatia and now taking down two of Europe's heavyweights in Spain—after a penalty shootout in the round of 16—and Portugal in the quarterfinals.

Morocco's defense has yet to concede a goal by an opposition player at this World Cup—the only one it has allowed was an own-goal—and it stifled a Portugal team that beat Switzerland 6-1 in the last 16 to thrust itself among the favorites. In a game played to the backdrop of nonstop whistles and jeers by Morocco's passionate fans, the team relied almost exclusively on counterattacks and scored off one of them. A cross was swung in from the left and En-Nesyri leapt between Portugal goalkeeper Diogo Costa and defender Ruben Dias to head into the empty net. Morocco went down to 10 players in injury time when Walid Cheddira was given two yellow cards in a brief time. While one soccer great goes home, Morocco has a team of them for Arab fans to cheer, per the New York Times.

(More 2022 World Cup stories.)

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