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Atlas Lions Make World Cup History


Morocco's Atlas Lions pose for a photo as they celebrate advancing to the semi finals of the 2022 FIFA World Cup

Morocco’s Atlas Lions Saturday made history by becoming the first African nation to proceed to the semifinals of the FIFA World Cup after the North African nation defeated Portugal 1-0.

Moroccan forward Youssef En-Nesyri sent the Atlas Lions roaring into the semifinals of the 2022 FIFA World Cup after the 25-year-old forward scored in the 42nd minute of their quarterfinals clash against Portugal.

Morocco's Youssef En-Nesyri scores the opening goal against Portugal at the 2022 FIFA World Cup
Morocco's Youssef En-Nesyri scores the opening goal against Portugal at the 2022 FIFA World Cup

Commentators observing the game praised the Atlas Lions for defending their 1-0 lead throughout the second half of the fixture and applauded goalkeeper Yassine Bounou for stopping several last-minute threats by the Portuguese.

Moroccan winger Sofiane Boufal says his team is ecstatic about their historic victory and are looking forward to the semi-finals.

"Everything we have we deserve," Boufal said.

"There’s still the semi-final and god willing, the final," Boufal added.

Portugal entered the quarterfinals favorites to emerge victorious but struggled to break through the Moroccan defense.

The Portuguese held a majority 60 percent ball possession, 11 attempts at goal and three shots on target, among them a shot by Bruno Fernandes in the 45th minute that clipped the face of the cross bar and nearly equalized for the European side.

Portugal's Gonçalo Ramos reacts after missing a chance against Morocco at the 2022 FIFA World Cup
Portugal's Gonçalo Ramos reacts after missing a chance against Morocco at the 2022 FIFA World Cup

Fernando Santos, Portugal’s coach repeated his tactical decision of benching his talisman Cristiano Ronaldo with hopes that 21-year-old Gonçalo Ramos would repeat his prior outstanding performance where he scored a hat-trick against Switzerland.

Santos turned to his 37-year-old talisman in the 51st minute, with hopes that he would change the game in their favor, a development that heightened Portugal’s attack against the Atlas Lions.

Having come on as a substitute, Cristiano Ronaldo almost made an impact for his team in the 83rd minute after he supplied his teammate João Félix with the ball, resulting in a thunderous strike that forced Moroccan goalkeeper Yassine Bounou to fling himself to the top right of his posts to palm away the threatening strike.

Despite having fended off several attempts by the Portuguese, the game got tougher for the Moroccans in extra-time when substitute Walid Cheddira received a red card.

Portugal’s 39-year-old defender, Pepe pulled a last stitch attempt to equalize in extra time after he received a cross from Rafael Leão but the veteran defender headed the ball wide from close range.

Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo reacts to getting knocked out of the 2022 FIFA World Cup by Morocco, Al Thumama Stadium, Doha, Qatar, December 10, 2022
Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo reacts to getting knocked out of the 2022 FIFA World Cup by Morocco, Al Thumama Stadium, Doha, Qatar, December 10, 2022

Football analysts say the FIFA World Cup exit by the Portuguese could possibly mean Pepe and Ronaldo will retire from international football having never won a World Cup.

Commenting on the outcome of the game, Portugal coach Santos said, “the truth is that we weren’t able to show all of our game.”

“We couldn’t make goalscoring chances and leaving the World Cup always hurts,” he added.

Morocco will play the winner of the quarterfinals clash between England and France in the semifinals on December 14.

Some of the information in this report came from Reuters and Agence France-Presse.

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