Cameroon in 1990, Senegal in 2002 and Ghana in 2010 had all failed in the quarterfinals. However, Morocco became the first African team to cross this level, after dominating Portugal (1-0) thanks to a goal by Youssef En-Nesyri at the end of the first half.
Morocco was obviously not the favourite of this quarter-final, even if it had beaten Croatia and Belgium in the group stage, then eliminated Spain, another favourite, in the eighth final (0-0 after extra time, 3-0 on penalties). This was after a perfectly controlled match and a breathtaking penalty shootout during which Yassine Bounou, its goalkeeper, disgusted the Iberians.
Portugal, even with Cristiano Ronaldo, became a luxury substitute since the flamboyant qualification against Switzerland, not used to suffer such an affront (6-1), had the profile of a candidate for the world title.
It was predicted that the Atlas Lions would really suffer without Nayef Aguerd and Noussaïr Mazraoui, two of their best defenders and architects of their team’s impressive performance in Qatar.
En-Nesyri, the opportunist
Walid Regragui’s players built their success using the same strategy that has worked since their first match against Croatia (0-0, 23 November). An iron defence, a huge solidarity, an impeccable state of mind, an obvious technical ability to exploit the offensive phases, and a little success. This was the goal scored in the 41st minute by Youssef En-Nesyri, the Sevilla striker, well positioned to take advantage of a misunderstanding between Diego Costa, the Portuguese goalkeeper, and Ruben Dias to head the ball into the net.
Until this historic goal, Moroccans had mostly suffered against an opponent who decided to confiscate the ball. Yassine Bounou had saved his team from a Joao Felix header (4th), and the Atletico Madrid striker missed the target (30th, 38th). However, the Atlas Lions, who expected this scenario, had a few chances to score, with En-Nesyri (6th, 25th) and Boufal (35th), before opening the score. They could have scored a second goal thanks to Attiatallah (45th + 2), if a shot by Bruno Fernandes in an impossible angle had not hit the bar of Bounou (44th).
Bounou again decisive
The North Africans also suffered during a second half ultra-dominated by an opponent forced to take all the risks and to bring Ronaldo out of the bench (50th). When Romain Saïss, the Moroccan defender and captain, was forced to give up his place (56th), the task became even more complicated.
After Gonçalo Ramos (58th), Bruno Fernandes gave a big scare in the Moroccan camp (63rd), Yassine Bounou made another decisive save on a shot from Joao Felix, the victim of this historic day (82nd). Tired but heroic, forced to make eight minutes of extra effort after the end of regulation time, the Moroccans could still count on Bounou who came to confirm that he is indeed one of the best goalkeepers of this competition, who stopped an attempt by Ronaldo (90th + 1).
The Moroccans finished the match with 10 against 11 after the expulsion of Walid Cheddira (90th + 2). They got an opportunity to save themselves through Yahya Jabrane (90th + 5), but trembled one last time on a header of Pepe (90th + 6).
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