Expectant Africa as Morocco battles Portugal for ticket to semi-final
Morocco, which last Tuesday confirmed Africa’s position as the third best continent in the world to play soccer, is at it again.
This time, they want to become the first African country to play in the semi-finals of the FIFA World Cup. They will achieve that if they beat Portugal in the third game of the quarterfinals of the current World Cup in Qatar 2022.
The match at the Al Thumama Stadium, Doha, begins at 4:00 pm Nigerian time.
The Atlas Lions reached this prime position when they defeated Spain 3-0 via penalty shootout in a round of 16 clash last week.
Since that feat, which made them the fourth African country to reach the last eight, pundits have adjusted their view of the North Africans, with some now tipping them to alter more roles in this competition.
But against a team as formidable as Portugal, the battle will test everything that goalkeeper Yassin Bounou and his men have in their arsenal.
Biounou was the hero on Tuesday when the Lions defied popular predictions to eliminate highly rated Spain.
Given the fury with which Portugal has faced all rivals thus far, Walid Regragui’s side expect a tough fight from Cristiano Ronaldo and his men.
Morocco won Group F with an unbeaten record and have conceded only one goal in their run to the quarterfinals, their best performance in six world final appearances.
Anticipating another tough day in charge, coach Regragui congratulated the Moroccan fans on the tremendous support his team has received during the tournament and said they would not have made it this far without his support.
He said: “I think it’s impossible to do that without these fans.
They are coming to the hotel, wanting tickets, many fans came to Qatar to support the team, from America, from Europe and Morocco.
“They love the country and what I can tell you is that we have not done anything.
I need them for the quarterfinals but I am very proud of my fans and my people”.
With a win against Portugal tomorrow, Morocco will advance to play the winner of England vs.
Regragui, 46, took over as Morocco coach just over three months ago, after leading Morocco’s Wydad Casablanca to the African Champions League title in May. He replaced Bosnian Vahid Halihodzic, who led the team in the standings but was sacked, in part, after colliding with star players Hakim Ziyech and Noussair Mazraoui; both players started all four games in Qatar.
With Morocco representing the African and Arab nations, a run to the semi-finals would be a historic achievement with far-reaching impact.
“I want to change the mentality,” Regragui said.
“Many African coaches can train in Europe and in big clubs.
Portugal showed in their round of 16 match against Switzerland that they are ready to add to their Euro 2016 title by winning Qatar 2022.
They beat Switzerland 6-1, even without Ronaldo.
Ronaldo was ruled out of the game against the Swiss and his replacement, Goncalo Ramos, scored a hat-trick that led Fernando Santos’ team to victory.
With the return of calm to the Portuguese pitch after an alleged commotion over Santos’s decision to leave Ronaldo on the bench in the match against Switzerland, the coach has a range of stars to choose from.
Ronaldo has been photographed with a broad smile in Portugal’s training ahead of the quarter-final against Morocco.
He has consistently drawn negative headlines in the tournament, with revelations that the veteran is causing friction in team camp and the high-profile forward denying reports that he wanted to quit the competition after being eliminated.