Morocco vs. Portugal 1-0: Player ratings as Atlas Lions approach first World Cup semi-final

Morocco vs. Portugal 1-0: Player ratings as Atlas Lions approach first World Cup semi-final

Morocco vs. Portugal 1-0: Morocco became the first African team to reach a World Cup semi-final following a thrilling but well-deserved 1-0 victory against Portugal.

The Atlas Lions were worth a half-time lead and defended for dear life in the second 45 minutes to upset the Selecao and progress on a memorable day for the North African country.

The diving head of Joao Felix met a Bruno Fernandes free kick in the fifth minute, but Yassine Bounou was able to come down low and put the attempt to one side.

In the face of this pressure, the Atlas Lions promptly returned with a quick counterattack led by Yahia Attiyat Allah, who managed to earn a corner of the fleeing Diogo Dalot. From the subsequent corner, Youssef En-Nesyri rose highest but could not keep his free header down, and the Selecao escaped with some bad defense.

A half-volley from Felix took a terrible deflection off the back of Jawad El Yamiq on the half-hour mark, and Bounou had to watch as the ball whistled just over the bar gratefully.

Morocco, on the other hand, squandered a golden opportunity to take the lead. Attiyat Allah’s deft cutback found an open Selim Amallah, who couldn’t quite make a clean touch with his half-volley.

Another Portugal chance came and went as Raphael Guerreiro found Felix, who fired over the top once again as his dismal first half continued.

Morocco broke the tie just before halftime. A high cross from Attiyat Allah caught Ruben Dias, Guerreiro, and goalkeeper Diogo Costa off guard, allowing En-Nesyri to race in and jump high ahead of the Porto stopper to score.

Fernandes almost equalized Portugal in the penultimate minute of the first half with a Marco van Basten-style strike, but his mesmeric effort bounced back against the bar.

Morocco still had time to extend their lead before the halftime whistle, with Amallah spearheading a counterattack and teeing up Attiyat Allah, but his falling shot found the side-netting.

Morocco came within inches of scoring a well-earned second goal just after the break. Hakim Ziyech’s whipped free-kick eluded many persons and was fumbled by Costa, bouncing the ball back onto El Yamiq, who had no idea what was going on, as the ball rebounded barely wide.

To attempt to turn things around, Fernando Santos went to Cristiano Ronaldo and Joao Cancelo. Soon after coming on, the former worked his way upfield and crossed for Goncalo Ramos, but the 21-year-header-old’s was inaccurate.

Fernandes was up next, blasting over from the outside of the 18-yard box, while Bernardo Silva could not meet an exquisite free-kick routine that reached him 12 yards from goal.

Portugal’s second goal came around 80 minutes after their first, with Felix again denied by Bounou, this time leaping to meet a top-corner-bound thunderbolt.

In the last five minutes, Portugal anxiously requested a penalty for a handball against El Yamiq within the penalty area, but their request was denied.

As the game neared eight minutes of stoppage time, Walid Cheddira and Ronaldo missed excellent opportunities from close range. The former was subsequently sent off for two bookings in short succession.

With the world watching, Zakaria Aboukhlal sprinted through on goal in the 96th minute, but his attempted dink over Costa was feeble and easily saved.

Pepe headed a cross from Rafael Leao just wide of the post in what may have been his last World Cup appearance, and Morocco accomplished possibly their greatest-ever footballing success.

Morocco player evaluations (4-3-3): Morocco vs. Portugal 1-0

GK: Yassine Bounou – 8/10 – Excellent command of his box and several spectacular saves.

RB: Achraf Hakimi – 7/10 – A full-back known for his attacking ability, Hakimi demonstrated his defensive game with an impressively controlled performance.

CB: Jawad El Yamiq – 8/10 – The injury to Nayef Aguerd seemed to be a death blow for Morocco’s prospects, but El Yamiq came in and stepped up.

CB: Romain Saiss – 7/10 – Dug deep and battled for under an hour after straining his hamstring in the last 16.

LB: Yahia Attiyat Allah – 9/10 – A near-perfect performance at both ends of the field, extending the play in attack and shutting off Portugal’s right flank.

CM: Sofyan Amrabat – 7/10 – Remained cool and collected in a midfield fight that Morocco gladly conceded after an hour.

Azzedine Ounahi, CM – 8/10 It’s easy to see why Luis Enrique was taken with the Angers midfielder. He wore magic boots and had sparkles on his toes.

Selim Amallah, CM – 8/10 Flittered between the lines and was often in charge of counter-attacks, gliding past his Portugal rivals.

7/10 – Hakim Ziyech, RW, Showed flashes of creative creativity but not for long periods, albeit this was acceptable given the game plan.

Youssef En-Nesyri CF – 8/10 – Consistently placed himself in danger and made things difficult for Portugal’s defense. The distance between him and his aim appeared insurmountable. Now the first Moroccan player in World Cup history to score three goals.

Sofiane Boufal – 7/10 – LW We, like Ziyech, just glimpsed flashes of brilliance.

Walid Regragui, manager – 9/10 Despite injuries and needing to replace key players, Morocco did not buckle under Portuguese siege. Regragui will be remembered as an African football icon.

Portugal player evaluations (4-3-3): Morocco vs. Portugal 1-0

Diogo Costa – 3/10 – Came and missed the decisive cross that ended the tie.

Diogo Dalot RB – 5/10 I worked hard today, yet I lacked quality. Due to an injury, he was forced to leave the game late.

CB: Pepe – 5/10 – Portugal looked shaky defending counter-attacks, but it wasn’t due to Pepe or his tenacity.

Ruben Dias – 4/10 – CB Weak in the challenge, losing to En-Nesyri at the crucial point.

Raphael Guerreiro – 4/10 – Loose touched farther up the field and lost En-run Nesyri’s at the opposite end. Just after halftime, I was hooked.

CM: Ruben Neves – 5/10 – Was always on the ball, owing to Morocco’s intent to sit deep and break. He was unable to pick the lock correctly.

CM: Otavio – 5/10 – He didn’t have the same freedom to go through the defense as he did against Switzerland.

Bernardo Silva (4/10) shifted from possession and contributed nothing of note.

RW: Bruno Fernandes – 5/10 – Gave all he had against Portugal, but his daring crosses, passes, and shoots were mistimed.

CF: Goncalo Ramos – 5/10 – Much quieter than his explosive performance against Switzerland. The ball didn’t cling to him nearly as well.

LW: Joao Felix – 6/10 – The guy who was typically on the end of Portugal’s early opportunities but was mainly limited to long-range efforts.

Fernando Santos, Manager – 4/10 From superhero to nothing. Portugal was the polar opposite of the swashbuckling team that comfortably knocked Switzerland out.

Yahia Attiyat Allah was named Player of the Match.