Morocco shocks Portugal in never-before-seen World Cup drama

Cristiano Ronaldo was in tears after Portugal were knocked out of the World Cup quarter-finals by Morocco. Pic: Getty
Cristiano Ronaldo was in tears after Portugal were knocked out of the World Cup quarter-finals by Morocco. Pic: Getty

African supporters and fans of underdogs all around the globe are celebrating after Morocco stunned Portugal to become the first African nation in World Cup history to qualify for the semi-finals. The Moroccans delivered a seminal moment in the nearly 100-year history of football's biggest tournament, with a 1-0 win in their last-eight clash that ends Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal's World Cup dream.

Ronaldo was again relegated to the substitutes bench and was powerless to change the course of the match after coming on early in the second half, after Youssef En-Nesyri headed Morocco into a surprise 42nd minute lead. Having seen tournament favourites Brazil knocked out by Croatia on the previous day, Morocco's victory was just the latest massive shock in the first World Cup staged in the Middle East.

'HEARTBREAKING': World Cup rocked by sudden death of US journalist in Qatar

'INSANE': Brazil in tears after wild World Cup upset by Croatia

'RIDICULOUS': Lionel Messi dazzles amid 'insane' World Cup drama

Ronaldo was in tears as he was seemingly the first Portugal player to walk off the pitch, barely noticing a pitch invader that briefly mobbed him as he headed straight down the tunnel in devastation. For the 37-year-old - whose influence on the pitch for club and country is undoubtedly on the wane - it is likely to be his last appearance in a World Cup.

However, the day belong to Morocco and their squad of history-making players, who tossed their coach into the air and waved their country's flag as they linked arms in front of celebrating fans at the end of the match. Morocco goalkeeper Yassine Bounou was among the standouts in a resolute defence from the African side, which again proved extremely difficult to break down having also kept Spain scoreless in the round of 16.

"Pinch me, I'm dreaming," Morocco goalkeeper Bounou said after the match. "Morocco are ready to face anyone in the world. We have changed the mentality of the generation coming after us. They'll know Moroccan players can create miracles."

En-Nesyri's 42nd minute winner continued an improbable run that has generated an outpouring of pride in the Arab world, inspiring displays in Arab identity from fans in different countries. Africa is also rejoicing, with Cameroon (1990), Senegal (2002) and Ghana (2010) all reaching the quarter-finals but unable to take the next step.

Morocco have broke through and now face a semi-final against the holders France, who beat England 2-1 in the later game. Morocco's extraordinary slice of history is being celebrated across the football world.

Misery for Cristiano Ronaldo as Portugal crash out

The 37-year-old Ronaldo didn't start for the second straight game and came on as a substitute in the 51st minute. He missed his only chance to equalise in stoppage time. The five-time Ballon d'Or winner is set to finish his career without capturing the World Cup, and perhaps more incredibly, without ever scoring in the knockout stages or reaching the final.

He walked right off the field after the final whistle, only briefly stopped by two Morocco players wishing to shake his hand and a spectator who confronted him near the entrance to the tunnel, and was crying as he headed to the locker room. If this is the end for Ronaldo at international level, he'll finish with 118 goals — a record in men's soccer — and a European Championship title but not soccer's biggest prize. He only got as far as the semi-finals, in 2006.

"Our players are distressed," said Portugal coach Fernando Santos, who shrugged off questions about his own future and added that he didn't regret not starting Ronaldo. "Cristiano is a great player and he came on when we thought it was necessary. But no, no regrets."

For a Morocco squad - coached by French-born Walid Regragui and containing 14 players born abroad - there will be a growing belief that after accounting for Spain and now Portugal, they can go all the way in Qatar.

"Why shouldn't we dream of winning the World Cup?" Regragui said. "If you don't dream, you don't get anywhere. It doesn't cost you to dream."

The staggering truth about Morocco's stubborn defence is that they are yet to concede a goal to an opposition player at this year's World Cup - with the only one they allowed in an own-goal.

Seen here, Youssef En-Nesyri celebrates his goal as Morocco beat Portugal in the World Cup quarter-finals.
Youssef En-Nesyri's first half goal proved the difference as Morocco beat Portugal in the World Cup quarter-finals. Pic: Getty

In a game played to the backdrop of non-stop whistles and jeers by Morocco's passionate fans, the team relied almost exclusively on counter-attacks 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 into the empty net.

Ronaldo, who will be 41 by the time of the 2026 World Cup in the United States, Mexico and Canada, barely got a touch of the ball until his stoppage-time effort. "I was afraid he might play," Regragui said of Ronaldo, "because I know he can score out of nothing."

Substitute Walid Cheddira was shown a red card for Morocco early in stoppage time for collecting a second yellow card in as many minutes. After Portugal centre back Pepe headed wide from inside the six-yard box in the sixth minute of added time, Ronaldo fell to his knees in dejection.

with AAP

Click here to sign up to our newsletter for all the latest and breaking stories from Australia and around the world.