Morocco players celebrate with their supporters after they became the first African nation to reach the World Cup semi-finals
Doha (AFP) - Morocco became the first African team ever to reach the semi-finals of a World Cup when they beat Portugal 1-0 on Saturday, before reigning champions France take on England in a mouth-watering clash.
Youssef En-Nesyri’s first-half header secured a historic win for Morocco, who will play France or England for a place in the final.
Morocco have surpassed the three other African sides to reach the quarter-finals – Cameroon in 1990, Senegal in 2002 and Ghana in 2010.
Cristiano Ronaldo, who came on as a second-half substitute, was unable to rescue his side and at the final whistle walked off down the tunnel wiping away tears without acknowledging either his teammates or the victorious Moroccans.
Cristiano Ronaldo (L) with his head in his hands after being denied by Morocco's Yassine Bounou (R)
Ronaldo, 37, who with Lionel Messi has dominated world football for the past two decades, has likely played his last World Cup match after making a world record-equalling 196th international appearance at the Al Thumama Stadium in Doha.
The Moroccans have wildly surpassed expectations in Qatar and coach Walid Regragui lauded the battling spirit of his injury-hit side.
“We came up against a really great Portugal team. We’re drawing on all we have, we still have guys injured. I told the guys before the match we had to write history for Africa. I’m very, very happy,” Regragui said.
- Mouth-watering clash -
Reigning champions France take on England in a World Cup knock-out match for the first time in Saturday’s second quarter-final.
France have overcome a series of injuries to key players to reach the last eight in their title defence, inspired by Kylian Mbappe, the tournament’s leading scorer with five goals.
France's Kylian Mbappe (R) is hoping to follow England's Harry Kane (L) by winning the World Cup Golden Boot
“Kylian will always be Kylian, with the ability to be decisive at any moment,” said coach Didier Deschamps, who is bidding to become the first coach to win back-to-back World Cups since World War II.
England are the joint-highest scorers in the tournament with 12 goals after cruising past African champions Senegal 3-0 in the previous round.
They are still waiting for a first major title since the 1966 World Cup, after losing to Croatia in the semi-finals four years ago before a penalty shootout loss to Italy in the European Championship final at Wembley last year.
“Those big matches are important reference points for the team,” said England coach Gareth Southgate.
“There have been some defeats that hurt that prepare you for nights like tomorrow where you have to be the very best version of yourself. We are ready to fight France for that place in the semi-finals.”
The tournament is wide open after favourites Brazil were dumped out in the quarter-finals on Friday.
The five-time champions crashed out in dramatic fashion, losing to Croatia on penalties after a 1-1 draw, while Lionel Messi’s Argentina survived a fightback from the Netherlands to win in a shootout.
Neymar said he was unsure of continuing in international football after Brazil’s crushing shootout loss, but on Saturday Brazilian legend Pele urged him to “keep inspiring us” .
“I’m 82 years old, and after all this time, I hope I’ve inspired you in some way to get this far… Your legacy is far from over,” Pele wrote on Instagram.
Neymar had equalled Pele’s official Brazil scoring record of 77 international goals in Friday’s match.