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Morocco defeats Portugal and becomes the first African World Cup semifinalist



Morocco became the first African nation to reach the World Cup semifinals when Youssef En-Nesyri’s first-half goal sealed a tense 1-0 win over Portugal on Saturday at Al Thumama Stadium.

The Atlas Lions, also the first Arab team to reach the last four, added Portugal to their list of European scalps with a resolute performance in the second half.

Cristiano Ronaldo likely played his last World Cup game after making an ineffective second-half substitute appearance, failing to score his first goal in the knockout phase of the tournament.

Morocco took the lead in the 42nd minute thanks to a header from En-Nesyri as he came on hard late in the first half.

Portugal increased the pressure after the break, but an injury-hit Morocco side, without three of their four starting defenders once captain Romain Saiss was sent off, held on despite being reduced to 10 men in stoppage time.

The partisan crowd certainly helped the North Africans cross the line, though Portugal struggled to create many clear chances as they lost a World Cup quarter-final for the first time.

Five-time Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldo was sent off early in the second half by manager Fernando Santos but was unable to rescue the Euro 2016 winners.

Instead, it was another famous day for Morocco, after victories surprises over Belgium and Spain, on penalties, in Qatar.

Walid Regragui’s men will face either England or defending champions France in the semi-finals at the Al Bayt Stadium on Wednesday.

Morocco will believe they can beat any of those teams as they have only conceded once in this World Cup. Portugal enjoyed most of the possession in the first half hour, but Joao Félix’s diving header in the fifth minute, saved by goalkeeper Yassine Bounou, was the closest either team had come to an early goal.

However, Morocco always looked dangerous, and Selim Amallah fired over the top and Sofiane Boufal fired a direct shot at Diogo Costa for the Africans.

En-Nesyri goal It was no surprise that Morocco took the lead just before half-time.

Portugal goalkeeper Costa got past a cross from left-back Yahya Attiat-Allah that was never to come and Sevilla striker En-Nesyri did the rest with an impressive header.

Portugal nearly equalized seconds later in spectacular fashion when Bruno Fernandes smashed a bouncing ball from the right side of the box against the crossbar.

A crazy few minutes before halftime also saw Attiat-Allah, who was only playing in place of the injured Noussair Mazraoui, finish wide after another quick counter-attack.

The Portugal players were still appealing for a penalty after Fernandes dropped to the ground under pressure from Achraf Hakimi at the other end.

Morocco nearly doubled their lead four minutes after the restart when Costa nearly managed to prevent Hakim Ziyech’s free-kick from the right from flying wide.

Santos was quick to call their captain, sending off Ronaldo and Joao Cancelo in the 51st minute.

Morocco, already without injured defenders Mazraoui and Nayef Aguerd, took another hit when Saiss was stretchered off.

Portugal began to lay siege to the rival goal and Fernandes came close to leveling again when he fired narrowly from the edge of the box.

Morocco largely held off Portugal, but Bounou had to be at his best to knock down Felix’s shot with eight minutes remaining.

Eight minutes of stoppage time was largely spent with Portugal encamped in the Morocco half and Ronaldo almost had his moment when Bounou parried his low shot.

Morocco substitute Walid Cheddira was harshly sent off for a second yellow card in the span of two minutes.

Zakaria Aboukhlal should have laid the game down only to hit Costa directly as he cleaned up.

But his team somehow clung to his advantage to write his name in the history books when Pepe’s shot wide from close range just in time for death.

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