Atlas Lions make history: Morocco’s road to the semi-finals

The Atlas Lions faced Belgium, Croatia, Spain and Portugal, but only conceded once – that to an own goal, to Canada.

Morocco made history in Qatar by stunning Portugal to become the first Arab and African country to ever reach the semi-finals [Showkat Shafi/Al Jazeera]

Morocco made history as the first African or Arab country to ever reach the semi-finals of a World Cup as they knocked out Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal.

Their victory on Saturday at Al Thumama Stadium in Doha was celebrated throughout the Arab world, with Qatar’s hosting of the tournament giving this World Cup a home atmosphere for teams from the Middle East and North Africa.

They will now face either England or France in the semi-finals on December 14.

This is how the Atlas Lions got here:

Wednesday, November 23

  • Group F: Morocco vs Croatia (Al Bayt Stadium)
    • A point for Morocco after a 0-0 draw.

Croatia’s World Cup campaign got off to a stuttering start with a 0-0 draw against a battling Morocco, as the 2018 runners-up lacked the punch of the side that reached the final in Russia four years ago.

Morocco looked principally to Chelsea winger Hakim Ziyech for inspiration. But while the encounter was low on action, it was high on intensity as both sides battled for midfield supremacy.

Sunday, November 27

  • Group F: Belgium vs Morocco (Al Thumama Stadium)
    • 2-0 victory for Morocco

A huge step towards getting out of the group stage, with Morocco showing great resolve in keeping Belgium at bay for a majority of the game. They took the lead through substitute Abdelhamid Sabiri’s free kick in the 73rd minute.

The final 20 minutes saw Belgium – ranked second in the world – ramp up the pressure in search of a goal, but Walid Regragui’s side held on firmly and went down the other end to double their lead in injury time, thanks to Zakaria Aboukhlal.

Thursday, December 1

  • Group F: Canada vs Morocco (Al Thumama Stadium)
    • 2-1 victory for Morocco

Hakim Ziyech scored for Morocco in the fourth minute after a bad error by Canada goalkeeper Milan Borjan left the winger to shoot the ball into an empty goal. Youssef En Nesyri added a second in the 23rd, setting off wild celebrations among the Morocco fans who packed Al Thumama Stadium.

But Nayef Aguerd’s own goal just before halftime made it 2-1 and lifted Canada enough for them to put pressure on Morocco in search of an equalising goal for most of the second half.

Morocco finished the group stage at the top of Group F

Tuesday, December 6

  • Round of 16: Morocco vs Spain (Education City Stadium)
    • 3-0 to Morocco on penalties

Morocco booked their place in the quarter-final after a sensational penalty shootout win against Spain, becoming the first Arab country to ever reach the tournament’s last eight.

The Atlas Lions’ Spanish-born superstar wing-back Achraf Hakimi brought the curtain down on the last-16 clash at the Education City Stadium, notching the winner from the spot and sending the tens of thousands of raucous Morocco fans in attendance into raptures.

Pablo Sarabia, Carlos Soler and captain Sergio Busquets missed their penalties for Spain; Sarabia hit the post and Morocco goalkeeper Yassine Bounou stopped the other two.

Spain had enjoyed more than 75 percent of possession during normal and extra time, completing nearly 1,000 passes in total, but managed just a single shot on goal.

Saturday, December 10

  • Quarter-final: Morocco vs Portugal (Al Thumama Stadium)
    • 1-0 victory for Morocco

Youssef En Nesyri’s soaring 42nd-minute header proved the difference for Regragui’s side, whose resolute defensive display capped a remarkable showing in Qatar which has now seen them play more than seven hours of football without conceding a goal to an opposition player.

Highly fancied Portugal, who had dominated the ball throughout, proved unable to unlock their rivals’ backline despite all their possession and the summoning of record-scorer Cristiano Ronaldo from the substitutes bench shortly after half-time.

Morocco, whose improbable run has generated an outpouring of pride in the Arab world during the first World Cup to be staged in the Middle East, will now face either England or France in the semi-finals on December 14.

Source: Al Jazeera