Football

Player ratings as Atlas Lions reach first World Cup semi-final


Morocco became the first African side in history to reach a World Cup semi-final after an incredible but deserved 1-0 win against Portugal.

The Atlas Lions were good value for a half-time lead and defended for their lives in the second 45 to stun the Selecao and advance on a historic day for the North African nation.

Portugal came close to a fifth-minute opener when a Bruno Fernandes free-kick was met by the diving head of Joao Felix, but Yassine Bounou managed to get down low and push the effort to one side.

The Atlas Lions immediately roared back in the face of this early pressure with a swift counter attack led by Yahia Attiyat Allah, who managed to win a corner off of the retreating Diogo Dalot. Youssef En-Nesyri rose highest from the resulting corner, but was unable to keep his free header down and the Selecao got away with some poor defending.

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

At the other end, Morocco spurned a great chance to take the lead. Attiyat Allah’s clever cutback found an open Selim Amallah, who couldn’t quite get a clean contact on a half-volley of his own.

Another Portugal opening came and went thanks to Raphael Guerreiro finding Felix, again firing over the top as his frustrating first half continued.

Morocco broke the deadlock shortly before the break. A high cross from Attiyat Allah managed to catch Ruben Dias, Guerreiro and goalkeeper Diogo Costa cold, with En-Nesyri racing in and leaping high ahead of the Porto stopper to head home.

Fernandes nearly brought Portugal level in the final minute of the first half with a Marco van Basten-style strike, and he was unfortunate to see his mesmeric shot bounce back off the bar.

There was still time for Morocco to try and double their advantage before the half-time whistle, with Amallah leading a counter attack and teeing up Attiyat Allah, but his tumbling shot could only find the side-netting.

Just after the interval, Morocco came within inches of adding a well-earned second. Hakim Ziyech’s whipped free-kick evaded several bodies and was spilled by Costa, rebounding the ball back onto El Yamiq, who knew little of it and the ball bounced narrowly wide.

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Fernando Santos turned to Cristiano Ronaldo and Joao Cancelo to try and turn it around. The former managed to work his way up field and cross for Goncalo Ramos soon after coming on, but the 21-year-old’s header was wayward.

Fernandes was next up to try his luck, blasting over from the edge of the 18-yard box, while Bernardo Silva was just unable to meet an intricate free-kick routine which reached him 12 yards from goal.

Roughly 80 minutes after their first shot on target, Portugal notched a second, with Felix again denied by Bounou – this time the Sevilla stopper rising to meet a top-corner bound thunderbolt.

Portugal desperately appealed for a penalty for a handball against El Yamiq inside the penalty area in the final five minutes, but their pleas fell on deaf ears.

Walid Cheddira and Ronaldo both missed huge chances from close range as the game entered eight minutes of stoppage time, and the former was then given his marching orders for two bookings in quick succession.

In the 96th minute and the world watching on, Zakaria Aboukhlal raced through on goal in an attempt to seal the victory, but his attempted dink over Costa was weak and easily stopped.

With what may well have been his final World Cup action, Pepe headed a cross from Rafael Leao just wide of the post, and Morocco survived to claim arguably their greatest ever footballing achievement.

Youssef En-Nesyri

The hero / Fantasista/GettyImages

GK: Yassine Bounou – 8/10 – Commanded his box excellently and came up with some huge stops.

RB: Achraf Hakimi – 7/10 – A full-back renowned for his attacking, Hakimi showed off his defensive game with an excellently disciplined display.

CB: Jawad El Yamiq – 8/10 – Nayef Aguerd’s injury looked to be a hammer blow to Morocco’s chances, but El Yamiq stepped in and stepped up.

CB: Romain Saiss – 7/10 – Dug in deep and fought on for just under an hour after tweaking his hamstring in the last 16.

LB: Yahia Attiyat Allah – 9/10 – A near-perfect performance at both ends of the pitch, stretching the play in attack and locking up Portugal’s right side.

CM: Sofyan Amrabat – 7/10 – Remained calm and composed in a midfield battle that Morocco willingly gave up after the hour mark.

CM: Azzedine Ounahi – 8/10 – It’s easy to see why Luis Enrique was so impressed by the Angers midfielder. Displayed magic in his boots and twinkle in his toes.

CM: Selim Amallah – 8/10 – Flittered between the lines and was often leading counter attacks, dancing his way past his Portugal counterparts.

RW: Hakim Ziyech – 7/10 – Showed spurts of his creative genius but not for sustained periods, though again the gameplan made this understandable.

CF: Youssef En-Nesyri – 8/10 – Continually put himself about and made life tough for Portugal’s defenders. The leap for his goal seemed impossibly high. Now the first Moroccan player to score three goals at a World Cup.

LW: Sofiane Boufal – 7/10 – Like Ziyech, we only saw glimpses of brilliance.

Substitutes

Achraf Dari (57′ for Saiss) – 7/10 – Had big shoes to fill following Saiss’ injury but was magnificent.

Walid Cheddira (65′ for Amallah) – 2/10

Badr Banoune (65′ for En-Nesyri) – 6/10

Zakaria Aboukhlal (82′ for Ziyech) – 5/10

Yahya Jabrane (82′ for Boufal) – 5/10

Manager

Walid Regragui – 9/10 – Even in the face of injuries and key men needing to be replaced, Morocco did not wilt under the Portuguese pressure. Regragui will go down in history as an African football legend.

Cristiano Ronaldo

Portugal’s run is over / Alex Grimm/GettyImages

GK: Diogo Costa – 3/10 – Came and missed the telling cross which settled the tie.

RB: Diogo Dalot – 5/10 – Fought hard but was lacking in quality today. Subbed late on with an injury.

CB: Pepe – 5/10 – Portugal looked ropey defending counter attacks but that wasn’t due to Pepe or his dogged willingness.

CB: Ruben Dias – 4/10 – Weak in the challenge and lost out to En-Nesyri at the vital moment.

LB: Raphael Guerreiro – 4/10 – Loose touches further up the field and lost the run of En-Nesyri at the other. Hooked just after half-time.

CM: Ruben Neves – 5/10 – Was on the ball a lot due to Morocco’s desire to sit in deep and break. He was unable to suitably pick the lock.

CM: Otavio – 5/10 – Didn’t enjoy the same freedom to run forward through the defence as he had against Switzerland.

CM: Bernardo Silva – 4/10 – Shied away from possession and provided nearly nothing of note.

RW: Bruno Fernandes – 5/10 – Threw everything he had at Portugal but his ambitious crosses, passes and shots were mistimed.

CF: Goncalo Ramos – 5/10 – Much, much quieter than his blockbuster display against Switzerland. The ball didn’t quite stick to him the same way.

LW: Joao Felix – 6/10 – The man often on the end of Portugal’s early chances, but was usually restricted to shots from distance.

Substitutes

Cristiano Ronaldo (51′ for Neves) – 4/10 – Got into decent positions but wasn’t found enough. When he did find space, he fluffed his lines.

Joao Cancelo (51′ for Guerreiro) – 5/10

Rafael Leao (69′ for Ramos) – 4/10

Vitinha (69′ for Otavio) – 4/10

Ricardo Horta (79′ for Dalot) – 4/10

Manager

Fernando Santos – 4/10 – From hero to zero. Portugal were the complete inverse of the swashbuckling side that so easily dumped Switzerland out.

Player of the Match – Yahia Attiyat Allah



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