Underdogs Morocco became the first African team to storm into the semi-finals of their dream World Cup tour, sending Portugal home with substitute Cristiano Ronaldo. The Atlas lions beat the former European champions 1-0 (1-0) on Saturday evening thanks to a goal by Youssef En-Nesyri (42nd minute) in Doha's Al-Thumama Stadium. Morocco ended the duel in ten men, Walid Cheddira, who came on after just over an hour, saw the yellow-red card in the hectic final phase (90.3).
Coach Walid Regragui's team caused huge cheers not only among the 44,198 mostly Moroccan spectators with the quarter-final triumph, but also in the African and Arab world. The Moroccans are now demanding the winner of the game between defending champions France and European runners-up England on Wednesday (8:00 p.m.).
For the Portuguese, the best place in the World Cup is third place in 1966 with the legendary Eusébio. The first World Cup quarterfinal participation since 2006 ended in bitter disappointment. This was especially true for superstar Ronaldo, who at the age of 37 had to bury his possibly last hope for the world title. After the striker was not in the starting eleven in the 6-1 win over Switzerland in the round of 16 for the first time since 2008, the captain had to go back to the bench.
He was replaced by 21-year-old Gonçalo Ramos, who had scored a hat-trick in his World Cup debut. This time he remained pale. With Ronaldo coming on in the 51st minute, head coach Fernando Santos made it possible for the former world footballer to at least set an international record: With his 196th international match, Ronaldo equaled the world record set by Kuwait's Badr al-Mutawa.
Ronaldo converted a penalty in the 3-2 win over Ghana at the start of the tournament and has now scored in five finals - a feat no player has ever done before. However, Eusébio remains the top Portuguese World Cup goalscorer with nine goals.
The outsider from Morocco went into the biggest game in his football history to date with a severe handicap: defenders Noussair Mazraoui from FC Bayern and Nayef Aguerd from West Ham United had to sit out injured. The attrition against Spain in the previous round had left its mark. The North Africans, who had conceded just one goal in the previous four World Cup games, went visibly more aggressively against Portugal. They almost went 1-0 after five minutes when goalkeeper Bono, the hero of the penalty shoot-out against Spain, managed to deflect João Félix's header to a corner.
The Portuguese otherwise showed a lot of respect for the opponent, in which the right flank in particular made a name for itself with Hakim Ziyech from Chelsea and ex-Dortmunder Achraf Hakimi from Paris Saint-Germain. In addition, the Europeans had to listen to shrill whistles from Morocco's fans every time they touched the ball. A header from En-Nesyri (26') went wide of the Portuguese goal, but testified to the increasingly bold attacking efforts of the Moroccans. Portugal's back line around substitute captain Pepe, who is playing his fourth World Cup at the age of 39, was always challenged.
Ronaldo watched with a mostly impassive face as João Félix's goal threat flared up again on the other side: His ball landed deflected on the goal net after a good half hour. But then the Africans struck: goalkeeper Diogo Costa sailed past a cross ball and the powerful jumper from Sevilla, En-Nesyri, headed in to take the lead. Ronaldo made a face on the substitutes' bench.
Moments later, Morocco were lucky when a cross from Bruno Fernandes landed on the crossbar of Bono's goal in what was now a thrilling game. After the break, it wasn't long before Ronaldo was allowed to play. The Africans threw themselves into each tackle with passion to defend their lead as wave after wave of Portuguese attacks rolled towards Bono's goal.
A central shot from Fernandes hissed over the bar, otherwise Morocco's wall stood. Bono deflected a dangerous João Félix shot over the bar and also thwarted Ronaldo's attempt early in eight minutes of added time. Zakaria Aboukhlal carelessly missed the 2-0 (90.6) on the counter. In the end, the Moroccans still celebrated because Pepe headed wide of the post shortly afterwards.