Morocco make history by stunning Portugal to reach World Cup semi-finals

Youssef En-Nesyri’s header three minutes before half-time wins quarter-final clash leaving Ronaldo in tears

Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo walks off the pitch as the Morocco team celebrate their World Cup quarter-final win. Photograph: Getty Images

Morocco 1 (Youssef En-Nesyri 42) Portugal 0

When King Mohammed VI erects a statue of Bono in Taounate the goalkeeper’s full title, and not a Dublin crooner’s nickname, will be etched below the towering marble: Yassine Bounou.

This unbeatable evening at Al Thumama Stadium ended with Bounou’s son, Isaac, kicking the match ball into a netless goal. Father and son, together in the garden.

The few remaining red capes went ballistic, knowing that without Bono there would be no Moroccan odyssey. No giant leap for African mankind. No Arabic families flocking to see these nomads shackle Belgium, Spain and now Portugal.


On 82 minutes João Félix let fly from the spot Messi goaled against Australia, but Bono’s strong glove tipped the ball over. Morocco were almost in “Jannah”, almost in “paradise”.

The people of Fez, the hat city, must also commission a monument of Youssef En-Nesyri, as the gangly striker has felled both Belgium and Portugal with thumping goals.

At this rate, Azzedine Ounahi’s iconic face will be graffitied on Casablanca walls and tattooed on torsos. The roaming midfielder appears as Hicham el Guerrouj in football form.

There is an easily scribbled line about North Africans conquering former colonial rulers, but this is modern sport, not ancient history. This is Morocco ruling at the Qatar World Cup. Not a tawdry revision of how they gained independence from their semi-final opponents in 1956.

France versus Morocco; Hakimi versus Mbappé; Paris Saint Germain versus Paris Saint Germain, the delighted Qataris still have skin in a game that takes place at Al Bayt stadium on Wednesday.

None of this should come as a surprise. Many of these Moroccan names will fill our Champions League bingo cards in 2023.

“It is not a miracle,” said Walid Regragui, the French born Morocco coach. “We didn’t concede any goals. It is not a miracle.”

When the 44,198 crowd were finally allowed into Al Thumama, everyone bore witness to this Red Letter Day. The Arab world dearly hopes that Fifa and the Qatar Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy can bury the hatchet before December 14th, and figure a smoother way of running this tournament when thousands journey into the desert near Al Khor.

Morocco fans watch their team's win over Portugal at the Al Thumama Stadium in Doha. Photograph: Getty Images

The clue is in the title. Delivery and legacy, one follows the other, and after the latest mess outside Al Thumama, they must reconfigure a method of allowing ticket holders into these infamous stadiums before kick-off. What remains of an already shredded legacy depends upon it.

Speaking of legacy, Cristiano Ronaldo’s is written. His last contributions for Portugal consisted of aimless salmon leaps, one weak shot and a river of tears.

Morocco escaped for half-time tea with En-Nesyri’s priceless headed goal in their pocket, compliments of Portugal goalkeeper Diogo Costa, who made a pig’s ear of a Yahia Attiyat Allah ‘s high arcing delivery (of legacy).

Unfortunately, off-field mishaps keep giving the football a run for its Riyal. This remains a fractured World Cup as Al Thumama, a giant edifice eight kilometres south of Doha city was barely half-full 15 minutes before kick-off.

That sight has been the norm during this two-city project but the flow of late arrivals had not materialised 10 minutes into the biggest football match an Arab nation has ever known.

Morocco 1 Portugal 0 - As it Happened . . . Opens in new window ]

The Moroccans did not stay away, they could not get in. Packing the nearby Souq Waqif by lunch time, arriving from all over the region, along with plane loads from Rabat, plenty complained of prohibitive black-market ticket prices. Like most European nations, the Portuguese numbered in the low thousands.

Many were forced to walk south as no Metro station serves the area and Uber drivers are fined 500 Riyals for stalling near the stadium. And this, a World Cup quarter-final. Eye-witness accounts from outside the ground reported more inexperienced match day policing as the solution to handling the swell of people and avoiding a repeat of scenes from the Euro 2021 final at Wembley and this year’s Champions League decider in Stade de France was to lock the gates.

Nobody in, nobody out.

The shambolic Hayya visa app could not make up it’s mind about the fan zone being full or half empty.

Come the 25th minute, with the match still scoreless, swathes of empty seats were gradually taken by red-caped Moroccans and Qataris in distinctive white thobes.

By then, Portugal should have led but Bono palmed Félix’s downward header away for a corner after Bruno Fernandes’ dangerous free kick.

When the occasion needed a puff of Moroccan gold, Hakim Ziyech obliged, a lovely back flick completing the triangle with Achraf Hakimi and Ounahi to escape a Portuguese cul de sac.

After the En-Nesyri goal, Portugal showed us who they are. First Otavio dived into Hakimi, further seeking to enrage the Madrid-born fullback by pinching his leg. Argentine referee Facundo Tello also saw past Fernandes collapsing in the box near Hakimi; the engine of this remarkably disciplined Moroccan machine.

Fernandes clattered Bono’s crossbar with a snap shot before leading the assault on Tello’s senses, blocking the official’s exit from the pitch at half-time.

They demanded justice and Hakimi kept giving them some, drawing a Pepe hack for Ziyech to almost coax a free kick around Costa.

The second half was helter-skelter but the Atlas Lions dropped into Regragui’s flawless defensive shape, which is held together by Sofyan Amrabat. Seemingly Liverpool bound, Amrabat was the iceberg in the desert that sunk Portugal. An old Portugal of Pepe and Ronaldo, a young Portugal of João Félix, who will come again, when he recovers from the studs of Walid Cheddira.

Two yellow cards in quick succession ruled Walid Cheddira out of the semi-final. His contribution will not be forgotten. Ronaldo’s will; a solitary chance in injury time was met by Bono at the near post.

“When Yassine is like this we are invincible,” said Regragui. “I think we are the Rocky of this World Cup. I think now the world is with Morocco.”

Zakaria Aboukhlal’s feeble late raid on Costa’s goal gave Portugal one last sabre rattle, with shades of Irish misery at Estadio Algarve in 2021 disappearing when a 98th minute ball cleared Ronaldo’s polished brow, as Amrabat – always Amrabat – did enough to help Pepe’s lunging header breeze wide.

Morocco: Bounou, Hakimi, El Yamiq, Saiss (Dari 57), Attiyat Allah, Ounahi, Amrabat, Amallah (Cheddira 65), Ziyech (Aboukhlal 82), En-Nesyri (Benoun 65), Boufal (Jabrane 82).

Portugal: Costa, Dalot (Ricardo Horta 79), Pepe, Dias, Guerreiro (Joao Cancelo 51), Bernardo Silva, Neves (Ronaldo 51), Otavio (Vitinha 69), Bruno Fernandes, Goncalo Ramos (Leao 69), Joao Felix.

Referee: Facundo Tello (Argentina)

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent