Everywhere you looked at Al Thumama Stadium, there were tears. For Morocco, these were tears of joy, disbelief and pure ecstasy. For Portugal, these are tears of sadness and regret.
History was made here in Qatar when Morocco became the first African team to reach the semi-finals of a World Cup.
The sound of the full-time whistle was deafening, a roar that has been going on for 92 years and will be heard from Marrakesh.
There will be celebrations tonight and fans will sing the name of striker Youssef En-Nesyri, who scored the game’s only goal as Morocco beat Portugal 1-0 in the quarter-final.
It will be another story in Portugal, who were flabbergasted by this result. Full-time captain Cristiano Ronaldo headed straight down the tunnel with tears in his eyes. At 37, his quest to win a World Cup is over.
Ronaldo would have dreamed it was the day he was a hero, but instead it was Morocco coach Walid Regragui. Appointed only in August and nicknamed “Avocado Head” by pundits, he guided Morocco to the semi-finals of a World Cup. No one in their wildest dreams had predicted it.
Morocco were also worthy winners. Their defence, like the entire tournament, was unbreakable and the midfield in front of them was equally impressive. In attack, Hakim Ziyech and Sofiane Boufal sparkled at times, while En-Nesyri found the goal vital.
Given the spotlight that surrounds Ronaldo, there was a lot of interest surrounding the Portugal squad for this game. This, however, contained no surprises as Ronaldo remained on the bench, with Fernando Santos making just one change from the landslide victory over Switzerland by bringing in Ruben Neves for William Carvalho.
There was a shock with the Morocco squad, however, as they were rocked by the news that West Ham centre-back Nayef Aguerd and Bayern Munich full-back Noussair Mazraoui were injured. Jawad El Yamiq and Yahya Attiat-Allah arrive, and it is the latter who seizes this opportunity to start.
After a tight opener of around 40 minutes, where Joao Felix went closest for Portugal, Attiat-Allah provided the cross that sent En-Nesyri home. It was a brilliant jump from the striker, who rose higher than anyone else in the box, although Portugal goalkeeper Diogo Costa left a lot to be desired. He came for the ball, but got airborne.
That goal brought the game to life. Portugal hit the crossbar through Bruno Fernandes, who was also dismissed from a penalty, and Attiat-Allah squandered a golden chance to take the score to 2-0 before the break.
Another opportunity presented itself early in the second half when El Yamiq’s header was saved by Costa. The rebound hit El Yamiq, but somehow he squirmed. Santos knew he had to turn things around and his response was swift, throwing on Ronaldo and Joao Cancelo.
The stage seemed set for Ronaldo to be the hero as he made his 196th appearance, the most by any player in men’s football history. Morocco, however, is the one that made history.
Portugal pushed for a goal and they almost found it. Fernandes fired an effort just over the bar, Felix was denied by a superb save, Ronaldo had a shot saved and Pepe squandered a glorious chance when the net looked set to swell at the back post.
Portugal’s push intensified as the whistle and boos from the fans grew louder. Like the Moroccan players, they knew history awaited them and desperately wanted their team to hold on.
That’s exactly what the Moroccan defense did, even when Romain Saiss – another of their back four regulars – was carried off on a stretcher, and striker Walid Cheddira was sent off in added time for a second. yellow card. It didn’t matter, however, as Morocco held on to make history.