Muscat: December 10, 2022 will go down as a red-letter day for Arab and African football. Morocco, known as Atlas Lions, roared to a historic first as they became the first Arab and African team to reach the semifinals of the FIFA World Cup.
In a major upset, Morocco’s giant-killing run continued at the Qatar 2022 as they stunned former European champions Portugal 1-0 in the quarter-final match at the Al Thumama Stadium.
A leap of faith was all that made the difference as Youssef En-Nesyri jumped so high that he looked to defy the laws of physics as he beat a leaping Portugal goalie Diogo Costa and defender Ruben Dias to score the all-important goal of his career in the 43rd minute of the match.
This was the third World Cup goal for En-Nesyri and such was the persistence of the striker that despite making two failed headers, he had the belief in himself to produce that moment of magic that sent fans across the Arab and African world in frenzy.
Portugal had not started with their superstar Cristiano Ronaldo and coach Fernando Santos brought in the striker in the 51st minute. A late fightback from Portugal was defended stoutly and strongly by the Moroccans to earn a deserving spot in the history and the semifinals of the Qatar 2022.
In fact, Portugal had a man advantage with five minutes of the injury time left as Waleed Cheddira was sent off after picking two yellow cards.
They now meet the winner of the late Saturday blockbuster between England and France on Wednesday.
A semifinal place has continued to evade African nations at the World Cup, with Ghana’s spot-kick loss to Uruguay in 2010 the closest they have come so far.
Morocco’s run to the 2022 World Cup semi-finals is their first knockout stage appearance since becoming the first African nation to do so back in 1986.
Cameroon famously reached the quarterfinals in 1990, with Senegal and Ghana matching the feat in 2002 and 2010.