Morocco is 1st African nation into FIFA World Cup as Portugal & England exit

DOHA, 11 Dec 2022:

Morocco made history yesterday, upon besting Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal 1-0, to become the first-ever African team to qualify for the World Cup semifinals.

Fresh off beating Spain on penalties in the round of 16, the Moroccans entered the quarterfinal at Al Thumama Stadium having conceded only once in four games.

They stuck with their disciplined, defence-first approach against a side led by the all-time goal leader in men’s international soccer.

Ronaldo, 37, is also the only man to score in five different World Cup tournaments. Yet the Portugal captain and five-time Ballon d’Or was a substitute for the second straight match.

Against Switzerland in the round of 16, coach Fernando Santos started Goncalo Ramos instead of Ronaldo and the 21-year-old accounted for half of Portugal’s goals in a 6-1 rout.

Ramos got the nod again yesterday, but the Moroccan defence prevented the likes of Bruno Fernandes and Bernardo Silva from providing the young striker with service.

As was the case against Spain in the knockout stage, the Atlas Lions were content to let Portugal have most of the ball while holding the European squad to just five attempts in the first half.

Three of those attempts were by Joao Felix, who tested goalkeeper Yassine Bounou in the 5th minute and fired over the cross-bar.

Bounou’s Sevilla teammate Youssef En-Nesyri then put Morocco ahead in the 42nd minute with his third World Cup goal.

Six minutes into the second half, Santos replaced Ruben Neves with Ronaldo and swapped out Raphael Guerreiro for Joao Cancelo.

Portugal cranked up the intensity, but struggled to bring pressure to bear on Bounou, who dealt with a strike from Felix in the 83rd minute and a Ronaldo effort in stoppage time to seal the triumph for Morocco, who played the final six minutes with 10 men after Walid Cheddira picked up his second yellow card of the contest.

Defending champions France are two victories away from back-to-back World Cup wins after defeating England 2-1 to book their spot in the final four at Qatar World Cup 2022.

The Three Lions had nearly 60% possession and outshot Les Bleus 16-8, but France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris made six saves and the usually reliable Harry Kane – who converted a penalty early in the second half – missed on another chance from the spot inside the last 10 minutes of regulation.

Despite defensive lapses and an off night for top striker Kylian Mbappe, the French kept alive their quest to become the first side to win consecutive World Cups since Brazil did it in 1958 and 1962.

Olivier Giroud forced a routine stop from England keeper Jordan Pickford before Real Madrid’s Aurelien Tchouameni put Les Bleus ahead in the 17th minute with help from Atletico Madrid’s Antoine Griezmann, who became France’s all-time leader in assists.

England created chances, but Lloris held them at bay until Tchouameni fouled Bukayo Saka in the box in the 52nd minute and the referee pointed to the spot, allowing Kane to level the score and match Wayne Rooney with 53 goals for the Three Lions.

The Tottenham Hotspur and England captain also set a new mark for penalties converted in the World Cup with his fourth successful try.

The equaliser was followed by a stretch of end-to-end action with chances for both sides. Pickford turned aside a shot from Adrien Rabiot and Lloris smothered a strike by Spurs teammate Kane.

Pickford handled an attempt from Giroud in the 77th minute, but the 36-year-old striker beat the Everton man seconds later, getting his head to a tremendous ball into the box from Griezmann.

Giroud’s record-extending 53rd international goal restored the lead for France, but a clumsy foul by Theo Hernandez against late sub Mason Mount led – after a VAR review – to a second penalty for England in the 83rd minute.

Kane stepped to the spot and sent the ball high over the cross-bar, yet the Three Lions would get one last chance.

In the 10th minute of stoppage time, Harry Maguire was tripped just outside the area and England were awarded a free kick in a promising position.

Marcus Rashford – who posted a double against Wales in the group stage – got his strike over the wall but it failed to dip below the cross-bar for the equaliser.