On the eve of his final match in October 1977, Pele said that an African nation would win the World Cup before 2000. This is 2022 and that prediction may just be on its way to becoming a reality. Morocco beat Portugal by a lone goal to become the first African country to reach the World Cup semi-finals.
Morocco will face the winner between France and England to decide who goes through to the final. With the win, Morocco did not only maintain their unbeaten run at the Qatar 2022 World Cup but remains the only country that has not conceded a goal from an opponent at the tournament.
Throughout the tournament, they have only conceded a goal against Canada, and it was through an own goal. The results so far show how organized the Moroccan defense can be, even under pressure from a perceived stronger opposition team.
Three other African teams have come close to reaching the semi-finals but couldn’t break the jinx. The most recent was Ghana in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Ghana was almost cruising to the semi-finals when a goal-bound ball was handballed by Luis Suarez. Asamoah Gyan missed the penalty and Ghana eventually lost the game.
Recap of the quarter-final game against Portugal
After emerging top of the Group F, Morocco was paired with Spain in the round of 16. The tenacious Moroccan defense repelled waves of Spanish attacks to take that game into extra time and penalties. Morocco goalkeeper, Yassine Bounou, was the man of the match after saving two penalties.
Again, Morocco came into the quarter-finals as the underdogs against a star-studded Portuguese team. This was further confirmed by Portugal’s 6-1 demolition of Switzerland in the round of 16. As expected, the Atlas Lions of Morocco sat back and absorbed the pressure from the Portuguese team, and waited for counterattack opportunities.
On one of those breaks in the 42nd minute, the ball was crossed into the 18-yard box and Youssef En-Nesyri rose the highest to head the ball into the back of the net. Morocco got other goal-scoring opportunities in the second half but failed to double or even triple their lead.
Portugal had their moments too with a couple of half chances including a cross from Bruno Fernandez that grazed the crossbar. The Portuguese coach made a series of substitutions including bringing in 37-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo in the 51st minute.
However, Moroccans were able to hold onto their slender lead until the final whistle. Even when Walid Cheddira was shown a red card in the 93rd minute, the Portuguese team was unable to capitalize on the one-man advantage.
While the Moroccan team made history, it may be the end of an era for some of the players in the Portuguese team. For example, Cristiano Ronaldo will be 41 years old by the next World Cup and it is highly unlikely that he will be part of the Portuguese team that will feature in the next tournament.
Morocco is on course to unite people
Every Morocco win at Qatar 2022 is not only celebrated by the country but by the entire African and Arab nations. In the stadium, we spotted Palestinian and Saudi Arabia flags. Morocco has enjoyed massive support from the fans which is often the biggest motivation any player can get to keep going.
Speaking to reporters on Friday, Moroccan coach Walid Regragui said; “We have nothing to lose. We just have to perform as well as in the previous games. Our mission is to show that Africa deserves to be at the World Cup. We have the whole continent and the whole Arab nation behind us.”
For the first time in a long time, Africans are united irrespective of ethnicity or religion o political devide to cheer the Moroccan team to victory. Displaying the can-do African spirit Regragui said; “We can do it—make history again. We are here to make people happy and go as far as we can.”
Reactions trailing Morocco’s semi-finals debut
Public figures around the world took to social media platforms to congratulate the Moroccan team for their historic achievement. One of them was the new CEO of Twitter, Elon Musk.
Apart from sending their congratulations to Morocco, many people have started to politicize what the win means for Africa and the Arab region.
If the Moroccan team loses their semi-final game, they can still fight for the bronze medal. However, Africans and the entire Arab world will definitely want Morocco to go all the way to lifting the World Cup trophy for the first time.
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