Africa Still Rising – Morocco Knocks Out Portugal Out of Qatar 2022

The Great Underdog Fairy-tale Continues 

Morocco was looking to boldly go where no African nation has been before. They eliminated Spain in the round of 16 and faced their Iberian Peninsula neighbour, Portugal. 

Will he, won’t he, yes Cristiano Ronaldo did start on the bench. End of the headline. Fernando Santos said it best when he said, “It’s time to end this and stop, Let’s leave Cristiano Ronaldo alone.”

On to the business of the match. In the 42nd minute, Youssef En-Nehsyri put Morocco ahead. First blood to the Atlas Lions. A Moroccan side that had only conceded one goal, an own goal, coming into the match, remained resolute at the back as chance after chance went begging for the Portuguese. 

Portugal continued to attack and increase their possession. There was a sense that it would only be a matter of time before the equaliser would come. Onslaught followed onslaught by the Portuguese. Bruno Fernandes couldn’t find a way with his shots, The G.O.A.T. – you know what I mean, couldn’t find a way. The clock shuffled to 80 minutes. Morocco took off Hakim Ziyech. Bono, their goalkeeper made an excellent fingertip save and the Moroccan wall refused to budge. 

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Minutes into injury time, substitute Walid Cheddira got sent off for a second yellow card offence. Would Morocco hold on to their lead with a man down? 

Portugal had over 60% possession, 9 corners to Morocco’s 3, 10 shots, and a man advantage but Morocco’s defence survived; Al Thumama Stadium erupted at the final whistle and Morocco becomes the first African country to reach a World Cup semi-final. Walid Regragui who was appointed as Morocco’s head coach on 31st August becomes the first African manager in a World Cup semi-final. This team has played over seven hours of football without conceding to the opposition. The Moroccan Magic continues. The World Cup of the Underdog continues to deliver. I(f there was to be a song chosen as the anthem for the tie, it might be Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.”

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That’s also my ever-present football analogy. This Morocco side has a self-belief that has allowed them to live this dream. Their unity of purpose has brought them this far – rank outsiders as the lowest-ranked team remaining in the tournament, they have given hope to over a billion Africans that the World football knockout stages are ripe for African entrants.

Over at the Al Bayt Stadium, England and France proceeded to battle it out in an all-European quarter-final. France started the first half brightly and were rewarded with a goal in a long-range strike by Aurélien Tchouaméni. The scoreline stayed the same for the remaining of the half. England came out positively in the second half. From hero to seeming villain, France’s goal scorer Tchouaméni brings down Bukayo Saka in the eighteen. Penalty to England! Harry Kane tucks it away against his Spurs teammate Hugo Lloris to make it 1-1. England remains in the ascendancy until when Olivier Giroud meets Griezmann’s through pass to give France the lead. Minutes later, England is given a lifeline as a second penalty is awarded following a VAR check of Theo Hernandez’s shove on Mason Mount. The unbelievable follows. Harry Kane blasts it over the bar, dashing the hopes of every England fan. A goal would have made him England’s record goal scorer. Can it still come home? Will it come home again after fifty-six years of heartache?

Deep into injury time, England is given another lifeline. A free kick on the edge of the box. Marcus Rashford steps up to take it but nicks the top of the net. This is a young man who never shirks responsibility. It turns out to be the last kick of the game. The game ends England 1, France 2. England loses again in the World Cup to the reigning champions. France is into the semi-finals of consecutive World Cups for the second time in their history. 

In a post-interview match, Giroud had this to say, “It’s extraordinary. You always have to believe. I knew I would have another opportunity and it’s great to help the team, I’m so happy. This reminds me of 2018 and we’re going to continue. Tonight, was an important match. England gave us a really good match.” Again, the theme of belief. 

France will face Morocco in what many will hope will be a continuation of the underdog fairy tale, and Argentina will face Croatia a day before. 

Lande Abudu

Lande Abudu (aka Miss Football) is the Component Lead for Standalone Solar Home Systems on the World Bank Nigeria Electrification Project

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