FIFA Men's World Cup
Morocco makes history as first African team to reach World Cup semis
FIFA Men's World Cup

Morocco makes history as first African team to reach World Cup semis

Updated Dec. 11, 2022 4:17 p.m. ET

DOHA, Qatar — Morocco became the first African country to reach the World Cup semifinals by defeating Portugal 1-0 on Saturday, likely ending Cristiano Ronaldo's chances of winning soccer's biggest prize.

Youssef En-Nesyri scored the winning goal in the 42nd minute to continue Morocco's improbable run that has generated an outpouring of pride in the Arab world during the first World Cup to be staged in the Middle East.

The 37-year-old Ronaldo, one of soccer's greatest players, didn't start for the second straight game but came on as a substitute in the 51st minute.


If this indeed becomes Ronaldo's final World Cup, the five-time world player of the year would finish his career without capturing the World Cup or ever getting to the final.

Morocco will play either France or England in the semifinals.

It is a seminal moment in World Cup history, with an African nation finally advancing to the levels typically only reached by European or South American teams. 

Cameroon (1990), Senegal (2002) and Ghana (2010) all reached the quarterfinals but got no further.

Morocco-Portugal highlights

Youssef En-Nesyri scored on a beautiful header in the 42nd minute, and Morocco's brilliant defense kept Portugal off the board.

And off the field, this Morocco squad — coached by French-born Walid Regragui and containing 14 players born abroad — is uniting the Arab world, inspiring displays in Arab identity from fans in different countries.

There’s no reason why Morocco cannot go all the way to the title, either, after topping a group that included second-ranked Belgium and fellow semifinalist Croatia and now taking down two of Europe’s heavyweights in Spain — after a penalty shootout in the round of 16 — and Portugal in the quarterfinals.

Youssef En-Nesyri scores on an incredible header

Youssef En-Nesyri scored off a ridiculous header to give Morocco the lead. See the goal from every angle.

Morocco’s defense has yet to concede a goal by an opposition player at this year’s World Cup — the only one it has allowed was an own-goal — and it stifled a Portugal team which beat Switzerland 6-1 in the last 16 to thrust itself among the favorites.

In a game played to the backdrop of nonstop whistles and jeers by Morocco’s passionate fans, the team relied almost exclusively on counterattacks and scored from one of them.

A cross was swung in from the left and En-Nesyri leapt between Portugal goalkeeper Diogo Costa and defender Ruben Dias to head the ball into the empty net.

Ronaldo, who will be 41 by the time of the 2026 World Cup in the United States, Mexico and Canada, had been looking to reach the semifinals for only the second time after 2006.

Try as he might, he barely got a touch of the ball until stoppage time when he got in behind Morocco’s defense off a long ball forward. His low shot was saved by goalkeeper Yassine Bounou, who hadn’t had too much to do before that point.

Cristiano Ronaldo came THIS CLOSE to tying it

Cristiano Ronaldo had a great chance in the 90 + 1 minute to tie the game for Portugal, but was stopped by a clutch save from Moroccan goalkeeper Bono.

Substitute Walid Cheddira was shown a red card for Morocco in stoppage time for collecting a second yellow card in as many minutes. Portugal center back Pepe then headed wide from inside the six-yard box.

Ronaldo fell to his knees in dejection. While Lionel Messi will be in the semifinals with Argentina, the other soccer great of this generation won’t be.

Reporting by the Associated Press.

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