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Morocco marches on - eliminating Portugal in the quarterfinals of the World Cup

Youssef En-Nesyri of Morocco soars high to head the ball and score the team's first goal during Morocco-Portugal quarterfinal at the World Cup in Qatar on December 10, 2022.
Justin Setterfield
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Youssef En-Nesyri of Morocco soars high to head the ball and score the team's first goal during Morocco-Portugal quarterfinal at the World Cup in Qatar on December 10, 2022.

Updated December 10, 2022 at 12:37 PM ET

Morocco isn't done yet at the 2022 World Cup. The pride of Africa and the Arab world defeated yet another European powerhouse to reach the semifinals with a 1-0 victory over Portugal.

Portugal came in favored to win and dominated possession the entire game. But Morocco once again found a way to win at this World Cup in Qatar.

The game's only goal came just before halftime in the 42nd minute when Morocco's Yahya Attiat-Allah lofted a ball in front of the Portugal goal and Youssef En-Nesyri soared high and headed it down past the keeper. En-Nesyri is the first Moroccan player to score at two World Cups.

Morocco's defense sparkled once again - particularly the sensational play of goalkeeper Yassine "Bono" Bounou. None of Morocco's opponents this World Cup — Croatia, Belgium, Canada, Spain or Portugal — has scored a goal (the one credited to Canada was an own goal by Morocco).

Morocco is the first Arab country to go this deep into a World Cup and, now, the first African country to reach the semifinals of a World Cup. Across Doha - and the Arab world - fans have turned out in force to cheer for their Cinderella team.

At the FIFA Fan Fest in Doha, thousands of fans squeezed in to watch the game on an outdoor big screen TV. They cheered every move, every shot, every time Morocco's players touched the ball. As the game ended, Tarig Saad was gleeful. He's originally from Sudan and now lives in Saudi Arabia. He drove ten hours to get to Doha.

"Being an Arab I'm very proud. Because we love football," Saad said. He noted top European rosters are filled with African players. "As individuals we are as skillful. We can do anything."

Asked why it's taken this long for the African nation to have this kind of success? "The competition is very high. And football has become like an industry. If we spent the same money as Portugal or Spain, we'd be better than Argentina or Brazil," said Saad.

Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal (R) reacts on the bench during the 2022 World Cup quarterfinal match against Morocco on December 10, 2022 in Doha, Qatar.
Buda Mendes / Getty Images
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Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal (R) reacts on the bench during the 2022 World Cup quarterfinal match against Morocco on December 10, 2022 in Doha, Qatar.

For a second straight match, star Cristiano Ronaldo started the game on the bench for Portugal. The 37-year-old is one of the finest to ever play the sport but the aging star hasn't been his usual dominant self at this tournament (he scored just one goal). His replacement Gonçalo Ramos, who scored three goals against Switzerland, didn't make much of a mark. Ronaldo was substituted into the game in the 51st minute. As the game ended, he appeared to wipe away tears as he walked off the field.

It was the third time Portugal reached the quarterfinals (it had won its last two appearances in 1966 and 2006).

Morocco awaits the winner of Saturday's late game between France and England to see who it will play in the semifinals on Wednesday.

NPR's Tom Goldman contributed reporting from Doha, Qatar.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: December 9, 2022 at 9:00 PM PST
We originally reported Cristiano Ronaldo hadn't scored a goal at this World Cup. He had Portugal's opening goal against Ghana in group play.
As NPR's Southern Bureau chief, Russell Lewis covers issues and people of the Southeast for NPR — from Florida to Virginia to Texas, including West Virginia, Kentucky, and Oklahoma. His work brings context and dimension to issues ranging from immigration, transportation, and oil and gas drilling for NPR listeners across the nation and around the world.