Morocco stuns Ronaldo’s Portugal, France pips England to reach semis

Olivier Giroud scored the winning goal for France as the defending champions marched on

After Argentina and Croatia sealed their place in the semifinals of FIFA World Cup 2022 in the most dramatic manner, the remaining two quarterfinal matches didn’t go into penalties but still had fans hooked until the final whistle with Morocco and France passing the ultimate test.

Portugal 0-1 Morocco

Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal faced a major upset at the Al Thumama Stadium as they were eliminated by Morocco who became the first-ever African nation to reach the semifinals in the history of the FIFA World Cup. Youssef En-Nesyri’s goal in the 42nd minute proved to be the difference between the two sides. 

Despite the Selecao’s best attempts, they failed to put one past the Moroccans who have conceded just a solitary own goal in the tournament so far. Portugal needed just five minutes to make their intentions clear as Joao Felix’s diving header was saved expertly by Yassine Bounou, following a teasing delivery from Bruno Fernandes. 

The Atlas Lions went close on two occasions with En-Nesyri failing to hit the target from Hakim Ziyech’s teasing deliveries first from a corner, and later from a free-kick, as the Sevilla forward blazed his attempts over the bar on both occasions. 

Walid Regragui’s men kept knocking at the door and their persistence paid off after 43 minutes as Yahya Attiat-Allah delivered a gorgeous cross to En-Nesyri who leapt the highest and buried his header into an empty net after Diogo Costa came to collect the ball but was nowhere near it in the end. 

Fernando Santos’s side looked for an instant response with Fernandes rattling the crossbar following a flick-on from Diogo Dalot as it finished 0-1 at the break in favour of Ziyech’s side. The first chance after the break also went in the way of the Moroccans, Ziyech again delivered a sumptuous ball which was deflected goalwards by El Yamiq but Costa was alert to repel the danger. Five minutes after the restart, Santos sent on Joao Cancelo and Cristiano Ronaldo in his attempts to salvage the tie. 

The Selecao kept huffing and pushing but their opponents would simply not yield. Their best chance of the match fell to Felix who received a layoff from Ronaldo and unleashed a thunderous effort which was headed into the top right corner but Bounou pulled off a miraculous flying save to keep his side ahead.

Santos’ men threw the kitchen sink at Morocco with Ronaldo testing Bounou right to death, but he was simply refusing to be beaten. Regragui’s men were to finish the job with ten men as Walid Cheddira was sent off following a second booking, Costa saved his side from further humiliation with a save deep into added time, and Pepe headed wide off the mark from six yards which compounded Portugal’s miseries. 

England 1-2  France

England and France played out a thrilling game at the Al Bayt Stadium with Olivier Giroud’s winning goal keeping the reigning champions on track to defend their title. 

It took the defending champions just 17 minutes to break the deadlock as Aurelien Tchouameni unleashed a belter through Jude Bellingham’s legs to give Les Bleus the lead. Some lovely intricate play between Bukayo Saka and Harry Kane allowed the England skipper to run through on goal, but his club teammate Hugo Lloris came out to thwart the danger. 

Shortly before the half-hour mark, Kane let fly from outside the box, and his shot took a slight deflection as well, but Lloris dealt with it comfortably. A well-rehearsed free-kick routine from Didier Deschamps’ men allowed Kylian Mbappe to latch onto a cutback from Theo Hernandez but he ballooned his effort at goal. It proved to be the last notable effort at goal in the first half, with France leading 1-0 at the break. 

Gareth Southgate’s men came flying off the blocks in the second half as they came very close to equalising through Jude Bellingham but the youngster’s effort was tipped over the bar by Lloris. 

However, the Three Lions were back in the game in the 54th minute when Tchouameni brought down Bukayo Saka inside the box and the referee pointed to the spot. Up stepped the skipper and smashed his effort past Lloris to equal Wayne Rooney’s record as the highest goal-scorer for England with 53 goals. 

Almost instantly they could have been pegged back as Adrien Rabiot latched onto a long pass in acres of space but his powerful effort was parried away by Jordan Pickford. Deschamps’ men should have taken the lead in the 77th minute as Olivier Giroud was denied a goal by Pickford from point-blank range, but there was no denying the French striker a minute later as he nodded in at the near post to give his side the lead again. 

There was plenty more late drama in the game as Mason Mount was brought down by Theo and while the referee didn’t give it a penalty initially, he reversed his decision following a VAR review, however, Kane blasted the resulting spot-kick over the bar from 12 yards. 

The Three Lions threw everything that they had at the defending champions including a free-kick from Marcus Rashford deep into added time but it simply didn’t happen for them, with the French prevailing 2-1 to go through.