Morocco won Portugal by 1 point in the quarter-finals of the 2022 World Cup on Friday, December 9th.
Morocco vs Portugal Overall History
The two teams have played each other twice before, with the two previous games occurring in World Cups.
FIFA Recap: 1986 FIFA World Cup
In the 1986 World Cup which was staged in Mexico, the two teams were drawn against each other in Group F.
When they played each other in Zapopan, Morocco vs Portugal won by 3 – 1, with Abderrazak Khazri scoring twice, and Abdelkrim Merry adding a third. Diamantina scored a late consolation goal for the Portuguese.
Morocco ended up topping the group, the only other time in their history they have reached the knock-out stages. They then were beaten in the round of 16 by West Germany.
FIFA Recap: 2018 FIFA World Cup
Four years ago the teams were also drawn together, this time in Group B. Their meeting in Lusail was a close game, ultimately decided by an early goal from Cristiano Ronaldo.
FIFA Recap: Morocco’s chance at history
Morocco is into the quarter-finals of a World Cup for the first time and is only the fourth African side to do so, after Cameroon (1990), Senegal (2002) and Ghana (2010). If they beat Portugal they will become the first team from the continent to reach the semi-finals.
They are also the first Arab country to have reached this stage in a World Cup, fitting for a tournament that is being hosted in the Middle East for the first time.
It means that they are likely to have significantly more fans in the stadium for the game against Portugal than their European counterparts.
Portugal’s World Cup history
This will be the fourth time that Portugal has played in a World Cup semi-final, and on two previous occasions, they have reached the last four. Their best finish at the tournament remains in 1966 when they finished third when Eusebio scored 9 goals for them in the competition.
FIFA Recap: Morocco
Morocco came into the tournament with an excellent defensive record in qualifying and has maintained that throughout the competition so far, having conceded once only and that was an own goal against Canada.
They have remained well organised in all the games, relying on swift counterattacks most of the time, with Hakim Ziyech, struggling for game time at Chelsea, consistently excellent for them.
That tactic enabled them to frustrate the beaten finalists from 2018, Croatia, in the opening game, and then shock Belgium rated the number two side before the World Cup in the second.
The strategy also proved highly effective against Spain in their last 16 encounters, who despite dominating possession, had just six shots, only one on target. Despite seeing less of the ball, Morocco had the better chances and might have won it before 30 added minutes and then penalties.
Spain manager Luis Enriqué claimed his side had practised over 1,000 penalties in training, It did not look like it as they missed all three of theirs, whilst Achraf Hakimi sealed the deal for his team with a Panenka.
It was an object lesson that possession in itself counts for nothing; it is what teams do with it that counts in the end.
Meanwhile, Morocco proved that a team can go far in a World Cup with a well-structured defence, even if the style of football is not always easy on the eye.
FIFA Recap: Portugal
Portugal may just have stumbled on a World Cup-winning formula. Drop an ageing superstar and replace him with a new younger, more mobile version. That seems to be the conclusion after Cristiano Ronaldo was benched for their knock-out game against Switzerland and replaced with Gonçalo Ramos of Benfica, making his first start for his country.
Ramos responded by scoring the first hat-trick of this World Cup, whilst the whole team appeared liberated, without the need to adapt their game to Ronaldo’s ageing style.
They were transformed from the team that had topped Group H, but without ever shining in the games against Ghana and Uruguay.
Ramos also gives them the sort of options Ronaldo used to provide, with his movement and ability to get ahead of defenders. Joāo Felix was one man who seemed to benefit more than others from the extra licence he has given and is starting to show why he has been rated one of the best young talents in the world for some time now.
The tournament began with Ronaldo becoming the first man to score in five successive World Cup finals. It seems destined to end with him relegated to the status of a bit part player.
FIFA Recap: And the Prediction Came True
There is only one way that Morocco knows how to play and that is to adopt a defensive formation and rely on counter-attacks to catch the opposition off guard. It has worked for them so far, and there is no reason for them to change now, even if they had the personnel to do so.
And that means Portugal is going to have to find ways of getting in behind them, something that Spain never managed to do. Ramos may still be very inexperienced at this level, but he could have a big part to play, offering the Portuguese somebody to play off and around, provided that their midfielders can be prepared to run beyond him.
This will not be the goal fest that the game between Portugal and Morocco was because it is not in the African's interest to make it so.
Instead, they will look to break up play at every opportunity, make tactical fouls when required to do so, and hope to exploit any opportunities that come their way. Portugal conceded two goals in their game against Ghana, so there are vulnerabilities that can be exploited.
What Portugal will want to avoid is the game going to extra time and penalties, because of the crowd behind them that may tilt the balance in Morocco’s way.
Instead, they will hope to win it in 90 minutes, probably by a single goal.
No surprise that Morocco vs Portugal made winning history again.