By Sean Walsh
Morocco became the first African team in history to reach a World Cup semi-final after an incredible but deserved 1-0 win against Portugal.
The Atlas Lions had good value for a half time lead and defended for their lives in the 45 second to stun the Selecao and advance on a historic day for the North African nation.
Portugal went close to taking the lead in the fifth minute when Bruno Fernandes’ free-kick was intercepted by Joao Felix’s diving header, but Yassine Bounou managed to run low and clear the shot.
The Atlas Lions immediately roared back in the face of this early pressure with a quick counter-attack led by Yahia Attiyat Allah, who managed to win a corner from the retreating Diogo Dalot. Youssef En-Nesyri got higher from the corner but couldn’t keep his free header down and the Selecao got away with poor defence.
On the half-hour mark, a half-volley from Felix deflected Jawad El Yamiq’s back badly, and Bounou had to watch gratefully as the ball whistled just over the bar.
On the other hand, Morocco rejected a great chance to take the lead. Attiyat Allah’s clever cut found an open Selim Amallah, who failed to get clean contact on his own half volley.
Another Portugal opener came and went thanks to Raphael Guerreiro finding Felix, once again shooting over the top as his frustrating first half continued.
Morocco broke the deadlock just before the break. A high cross from Attiyat Allah managed to catch Ruben Dias, Guerreiro and goalkeeper Diogo Costa, with En-Nesyri rushing in and leaping high in front of the Porto goalkeeper to go home.
Fernandes nearly leveled Portugal in the final minute of the first half with a Marco van Basten-style strike, and it was unfortunate to see his mesmerizing strike bounce off the bar.
There was still time for Morocco to try and double their lead before the half-time whistle, with Amallah leading a counter-attack and attacking Attiyat Allah, but his drooping shot could only find the net.
Just after the break, Morocco came inches away from adding a well deserved second. Hakim Ziyech’s whipped free-kick evaded several bodies and was tipped over by Costa, who bounced to El Yamiq, who knew little about it and the ball bounced just wide.
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Fernando Santos has turned to Cristiano Ronaldo and Joao Cancelo to try and turn the tables. The former managed to come back and cross for Goncalo Ramos immediately after coming on, but the 21-year-old’s header was unpredictable.
Fernandes was next to try his luck, blasting from the edge of the box from 18 yards, while Bernardo Silva failed to satisfy an intricate free kick routine which reached him 12 yards from goal.
Some 80 minutes after their first shot on target, Portugal scored a second, with Felix once again denied by Bounou – this time the Sevilla defender rising to meet a lightning bolt from a corner.
Portugal desperately asked for a penalty for a handball against El Yamiq inside the penalty area in the last five minutes, but their pleas fell on deaf ears.
Walid Cheddira and Ronaldo both missed big chances from close range as the game went into eight minutes of added time, and the former were given marching orders for two bookings in quick succession.
In the 96th minute and the world watching, Zakaria Aboukhlal passed on goal in an attempt to seal victory, but his attempt to dink Costa was weak and easily stopped.
In what may have been his last action at the World Cup, Pepe headed Rafael Leao’s cross just wide of the post, and Morocco survived to claim arguably their greatest ever footballing success.
Morocco player ratings (4-3-3)
PORT: Yassine Bounou – 8/10 – He commanded his box excellently and made some huge stops.
RB: Achraf Hakimi – 7/10 \- Fullback renowned for his attack, Hakimi showed his defensive game with excellent discipline.
BC: Jawad El Yamiq – 8/10 – Nayef Aguerd’s injury looked to be a major blow to Morocco’s chances but El Yamiq stepped in and stepped up.
CB: Romain Saiss – 10/7 – He dug deep and fought for just under an hour after having hamstring tweaks in the last 16.
LB: Yahia Attiyat Allah – 9/10 – An almost perfect performance from both ends of the pitch, extending the game up front and blocking Portugal’s right side.
CM: Sofyan Amrabat – 7/10 – He remains calm and composed in a midfield battle that Morocco gladly gives up after the hour.
CM: Azzedine Ounahi – 8/10 – It’s easy to see why Luis Enrique was so impressed by the Angers midfielder. He showed magic in his boots and sparkle in his toes.
CM: Selim Amallah – 8/10 – He fluttered between the lines and frequently led counter-attacks, outpacing his Portuguese counterparts.
AD: Hakim Ziyech – 7/10 – He has shown flashes of his creative genius but not for sustained periods, though again the game plan made that understandable.
CF: Youssef En-Nesyri – 8/10 – He continually put himself in the game and made life difficult for the Portuguese defenders. The jump for his goal seemed incredibly high. He is now the first Moroccan player to score three goals in a World Cup.
AS: Sofiane Boufal – 7/10 – Like Ziyech, we’ve only seen flashes of brilliance.
Achraf Dari (57′ for Saiss) – 7/10 – He had big shoes to fill after Saiss’ injury, but it was magnificent.
Walid Cheddira (65′ for God’s sake) – 2/10
Badr Banoune (65′ for En-Nesyri) – 6/1
Zakaria Aboukhlal (82′ for Ziyech) – 5/10
Yahya Jabrane (82′ for Boufal) – 5/10
Walid Regragui – 9/10 – Even faced with injuries and key men to be replaced, Morocco did not cave under Portuguese pressure. Regragui will go down in history as a legend of African football.
Portugal player ratings (4-3-3)
GK: Diogo Costa – 3/10 – He came and missed the revealing cross which settled the tie.
RB: Diogo Dalot – 5/10 – He fought hard but lacked quality today. He subbed late with an injury.
CB: Pepper – 5/10 – Portugal looked unmoved on a counter-attack in defense but that wasn’t due to Pepe or his dogged will.
CB: Ruben Dias – 4/10 – Weak in the challenge and lost to En-Nesyri at the crucial moment.
LB: Raphael Guerreiro – 4/10 – Loose touches further up the court and lost En-Nesyri’s run on the other. Hooked up just after the interval.
MC: Ruben Neves – 5/10 – He was very much on the ball due to Morocco’s desire to sit deep and break. He was unable to pick the lock properly.
CM: Octavius - 5/10 – He didn’t enjoy the same freedom to rush to defense that he did against Switzerland.
MC: Bernardo Silva – 4/10 – He avoided possession and delivered almost nothing of note.
CEO: Bruno Fernandes – 5/10 – He threw everything he had against Portugal, but his ambitious crosses, passes and shots were missed.
FC: Goncalo Ramos – 5/10 – Much, much quieter than his blockbuster display against Switzerland. The ball didn’t stick to him the same way.
AS: Joao Felix – 6/10 – The man is often at the end of Portugal’s first chances but was usually limited to long-range shots.
Cristiano Ronaldo (51′ for Neves) – 4/10 – He got decent positions but not enough was found. When he found space, he scrambled his lines.
Joao Cancelo (51′ for Guerreiro) – 5/10
Rafael Leão (69′ for Ramos) – 4/10
Vitinha (69′ for Otavio) – 4/10
Ricardo Horta (79′ for Dalot) – 4/10
Fernando Santos – 4/10 – From hero to zero. Portugal was the complete opposite of the swaggering side that so easily dumped Switzerland.
Player of the match – Yahia Attiyat Allah
This article was originally posted on 90min.com as Morocco 1-0 Portugal: Player ratings as Atlas Lions reach first World Cup semi-final.
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