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World Cup 2022: Morocco make history by beating Portugal to reach semis

Youssef En-Nesyri's first-half header sends the Portuguese home, with Cristiano Ronaldo storming down the tunnel in tears
Morocco's players celebrate after beating Portugal to progress to the World Cup semi-finals at Al Thumama Stadium in Doha, Qatar, on 10 December 2022 (AFP)

Morocco sealed a stunning win over Portugal at the Qatar World Cup on Saturday, becoming the first African and Arab side to ever reach a World Cup semi-final.

Youssef En-Nesyri got the only goal in the 43rd minute with an impeccably timed leap to send a thumping header home. 

Morocco came close to a second goal four minutes into the second half as Jawad El Yamiq got a touch to Hakim Ziyech's in-swinging free kick but goalkeeper Diogo Costa was in place this time to block.

Not even the 51st minute introduction of Cristiano Ronaldo could inspire a Portugal comeback, with the Atlas Lions holding firm as Bruno Fernandes hit the crossbar while Goncalo Ramos and Bernardo Silva also missed the target.

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Morocco's Walid Cheddira was sent off in stoppage time, after receiving two yellow cards in quick succession, but to the delight of the raucous support, the Atlas Lions held out for a famous victory.

Portugal will see it as a missed opportunity against the lowest-ranked side left in the tournament and a disappointing curtain call for the 37-year-old Ronaldo, who walked down the tunnel at the end of the game in tears.

"We're here to change a mentality - no more inferiority," said their man of the match goalkeeper, Yassine Bounou, also known as Bono.

Manager Walid Regragui delivered an even more compelling line: "We are the Rocky Balboa of this World Cup."

Unlike Rocky, though, Morocco haven't been knocked down.

"We are the team that everyone loves in this World Cup because we are showing the world you can succeed even if you don't have as much talent and money," Regragui added.

"It is no miracle. Many of you will say it is, especially in Europe, but we have beaten Belgium, Spain and Portugal without conceding. We have made our people proud and our continent and so many people around, when you watch Rocky you want to support Rocky Balboa."

Why shouldn't we dream?

Over the course of their five World Cup matches, the only goal Morocco have conceded was an own goal against Canada.

In addition to the wins against Portugal, Belgium and Spain, the Atlas Lions kept a clean sheet against fellow semi-finalist Croatia.

The team have won over won over plenty of plaudits for their energetic displays, magnificent defending and attacking flair.

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The team have also won praise for displaying their Islamic beliefs, such as reciting passages of the Quran in their huddle before their success on penalties over Spain in the previous round, and their bowing down for prostration in front of their fans after their victory over Portugal.

"We're a believing people. We prayed for this win, we expected it, and we deserve it," Fatima Zahra Harimi, a social assistant based in Rabat told Middle East Eye.

"God willing, we'll win the next match too. This is a victory for Moroccans, Muslims, Arabs, and Africans."

Speaking after the match, an optimistic Regragui said there's no reason for Morocco's World Cup dream to end in the last four.

"What's important for future generations is we've shown that it is possible for an African team to get to the semifinals of the World Cup. Or even the final, why not?" he said.

"In one press conference three or four matches ago, I was asked 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."

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