Morocco reach the World Cup semi-finals by beating Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo


Africa finally has a team in the World Championship Semifinals, and so does the Arab world. Morocco delivered a seminal moment in the nearly 100-year history of football’s greatest tournament, the batting Cristiano Ronaldo and his Portuguese team 1-0 on Saturday, another shocking result at the inaugural World Cup in the Middle East.

As a tearful Ronaldo headed straight down the tunnel after the final whistle – and perhaps into international retirement – ​​Morocco’s players threw their coach in the air and waved their country’s flag while crossing their arms in front of the celebrating fans.

“Pinch me, I’m dreaming,” said Moroccan goalkeeper Yassine Bounou. “Morocco are ready to play anyone in the world. We have changed the mentality of the generation that comes after us. They will know that Moroccan players can do wonders.”

Youssef En-Nesyri scored the winning goal in the 42nd minute, continuing an unlikely run that inspired pride in the Arab world and inspired fans in different countries to demonstrate Arab identity.

Africa, too, is happy to finally have a nation rising to a level normally only achieved by European or South American teams. Cameroon (1990), Senegal (2002) and Ghana (2010) all reached the quarterfinals but failed to advance.

Jawad El Yamiq of Morocco celebrates after the World Cup Quarter Final match between Morocco and Portugal at Al Thumama Stadium December 10, 2022 in Doha, Qatar.
Jawad El Yamiq of Morocco celebrates after the World Cup Quarter Final match between Morocco and Portugal at Al Thumama Stadium December 10, 2022 in Doha, Qatar.

ANP via Getty Images

Morocco broke through and prepared a semifinal match against France. who defeated England 2-1 late Saturday.

One of football’s greatest players but now a fading force, 37-year-old Ronaldo did not start for the second straight game, coming on as a 51st-minute substitute. He missed his only chance to equalize in added time.

The five-time World Player of the Year will end his career without winning the World Cup or ever reaching the final. He walked straight off the field after the final whistle, only briefly stopped by two Moroccan players who wanted to shake his hand and a spectator who confronted him near the tunnel entrance, and cried as he walked into the dressing room.

If this is the end for Ronaldo internationally, he will finish with 118 goals – a record in men’s football – and a European title, but not football’s greatest prize. At the 2006 World Cup, he only made it to the semifinals.

“Our players are desperate,” said Portugal coach Fernando Santos, who shrugged off questions about his own future and added that he had no regrets not signing Ronaldo. “Cristiano is a great player and he came when we thought it was necessary. But no, we don’t regret it.”

There’s no reason this Moroccan side, coached by Frenchman Walid Regragui and made up of 14 foreign-born players, can’t go all the way to the title. They led a group that also included second-placed Belgium and semi-finalists Croatia, and have now defeated two of the European heavyweights in Spain – after a penalty shoot-out in the last 16 – and Portugal in the quarter-finals.

“What is important for future generations is that we have shown that it is possible for an African team to reach the semi-finals of the World Cup. Or even the final, why not?” Regragui told Reuters reporters.

“At a press conference three or four games ago, I was asked if we could win the World Cup. And I said, ‘Why not?’ We can dream. Why shouldn’t we dream? If you don’t dream, you don’t get anywhere. It doesn’t cost you anything.”

The Moroccan defense have yet to concede a goal from an opponent at this year’s World Cup – the only one they conceded was an own goal – and they prevented a Portuguese team that beat Switzerland 6-1 in the Round of 16 from to huddle among them the favorites.

In a game played by Morocco’s fervent fans to nonstop whistles and jeers, the side relied almost entirely on counterattacks and scored from one of them.

A cross from the left and En-Nesyri jumped between Portugal goalkeeper Diogo Costa and defender Ruben Dias and headed into the empty goal.

Ronaldo, who will be 41 at the 2026 World Cup in the United States, Mexico and Canada, barely had a touch of the ball until injury time, when he got behind the Moroccan defense after a long ball forward. His low shot was saved by Bounou.

“I was afraid he might play,” Regragui said of Ronaldo, “because I know he can score out of nowhere.”

Substitute Walid Cheddira was sent off early in injury time for Morocco after conceding a second yellow card in as many minutes.

After Portugal centre-back Pepe headed wide from the six-yard box in the sixth minute of added time, Ronaldo fell to his knees in dejection.

While Lionel Messi is in the semifinals with Argentina, the other football great of this generation will not be there.

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