FIFA World Cup: Morocco stun Portugal to qualify for semi-finals

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Youssef En-Nesyri celebrates scoring his team's first goal | AFP

Doha: Morocco became the first African team in history to qualify for the semi-finals of the World Cup after defeating Portugal 1-0 at Al Thumama Stadium on Saturday. A brilliant header from Youssef En-Nesyri in the 42nd minute was enough for Morocco to book a place in the semis. Portugal created several chances in both halves but failed to break the Moroccan spirit.

Joao Felix had three of Portugal's five attempts on goal in the first half, and En-Nesyri scored the opener after failing to convert the header twice. Morocco was down to 10 men in injury time after Walid Cheddira was sent-off for a dangerous tackle on Joao Felix. Despite putting balls into the box, Portugal failed to find the decisive goal to take them to the semi-finals.

Portugal was the first to register a strike on target in the 4th minute through Joao Felix. His header from a brilliant free kick from Bruno Fernandez from the right was cleared away for a corner by Moroccan Goalkeeper Yassine Bounou. From the start, they continued to find attackers upfront through brilliant long balls from the back. However, the deep defensive line of Morocco stopped Portugal from creating clear-cut chances in the first half.

Morocco nearly scored in the 7th minute after Hakim Ziyech sent in a dangerous ball from the corner in the box. However, Youssef En-Nesyri's header went over the crossbar.

In the early exchanges, Morocco seemed happy to sit back and wait for a break to counter-attack. Meanwhile, Portugal looked confident by playing dangerous balls into the box.

In the 18th minute, Ziyech drifted past two defenders and lashed a low shot a yard wide of the post from 20 yards. Ramos, who scored a hattrick against Switzerland, failed to make an impact in the first half. Youssef En-Nesyri missed another chance in front of the goal after Ziyech sent in a dangerous ball from a free-kick. However, an unmarked Nesyri header went over the bar.

Joao Felix nearly broke the deadlock in the 30th minute after Atlas Lions cleared a dangerous long ball into the path of an Atlético Madrid winger. His first-time strike from outside the box took a deflection and went inches wide of the bar.

Morocco took the lead in the 42nd through En-Nesyri after Yahia Attiyat Allah sent a cross from the right into the box for the Sevilla striker to head home the opener. 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. Portugal immediately responded by creating their best chance of the half through Bruno Fernandez. However, his shot hit the crossbar and bounced away for safety.

Portugal started the second half by dominating while keeping an eye on Morocco's counter-attacking football. Morocco did test Portuguese keeper Diogo Costa with yet another dangerous free kick from Ziyech in the 49th minute. However, the El Yamiq header was saved by Costa.

Ronaldo's introduction in the second half alongside Ramos helped Portugal open the Moroccan defence in the early minutes of the second half. Ramos came to life for the first time in the match after winning a header from a cross from Otavio. However, his header went wide of goal.

In the 63rd minute, Bruno Fernandez nearly scored one back from a long-range strike from outside the box. However, the ball went sailing above the crossbar. Portugal struggled to find the opener despite creating several corners in the later stages of the match.

Portugal tried everything to break the Moroccan spirit but failed to beat their in-form keeper Yassine Bounou. Pepe missed a golden opportunity to find the decisive goal in the last seconds of the match. However, his header went wide of goal.

Earlier, Portugal dropped Cristiano Ronaldo from the starting lineup for the second straight match at the World Cup.

Gonçalo Ramos, who scored a hat trick on Tuesday in Portugal's 6-1 win over Switzerland on his first start for Portugal, was again selected ahead of Ronaldo.

Portugal's other starters against Morocco at Al Thumama Stadium included João Félix, Bernardo Silva, Bruno Fernandes and Otávio.
Portugal is trying to make it to the last four for the third time, having finished third in 1966 and fourth in 2006. It hadn't gotten past the round of 16 since that tournament in Germany 16 years ago.

Morocco (4-3-3)

Yassine Bounou; Achraf Hakimi, Jawad El Yamiq, Romain Saiss (capt), Yahya Attiat-Allah; Sofyan Amrabat, Azzedine Ounahi, Selim Amallah; Hakim Ziyech, Youssef En-Nesyri, Sofiane Boufal

Portugal (4-2-3-1)
Diogo Costa; Diogo Dalot, Ruben Dias, Pepe (capt), Raphael Guerreiro; Ruben Neves, Otavio; Bruno Fernandes, Bernardo Silva, Joao Felix; Goncalo Ramos AP

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