The battle of the green and red was about to take place in order to determine who would play the winner of the England/France match in the semi finals. Portugal arrived at the Al Thumama Stadium after absolutely thumping Switzerland 6-1. That result was surprising but not as surprising as the victory that Morocco recorded over Spain.
The expected team news for Portugal saw Cristiano Ronaldo taking his place on the bench again with Goncalo Ramos leading the line again. There was no room in the starting XI for Manchester City full-back Joao Cancelo either.
Portugal had one change from the side that beat Switzerland 6-1, with Wolves midfielder Ruben Neves coming in for William Carvalho.
Portugal XI: Costa, Dalot, Pepe, Dias, Guerreiro, Otavio, Neves, B Silva, Fernandes, Felix, Ramos.
Morocco Morocco suffered a huge double blow with the news that West Ham centre-back Nayef Aguerd and Bayern Munich full-back Noussair Mazraoui were both out injured. Jawad El Yamiq and Yahya Attiat-Allah were brought into the side.
Morocco XI: Bounou, Hakimi, El Yamiq, Saiss, Attiat-Allah, Ounahi, Amrabat, Amallah, Ziyech, Boufal, En-Nesyri.
The match started with Portugal on the front foot. Joao Felix was creating havoc down the left side. It was Felix who was denied by the Moroccan goalkeeper Yassine Bounou. The Portuguese had Bruno Neves in the side and it was clear that he was brought in to distribute long, cross field balls to open up the Moroccan back line. Unfortunately, it was not having the desired effect as the Moroccans saw the threat and adjusted accordingly.
The Moroccans grew into the game and started to get opportunities of their own. The deadlock was broken in the 41st minute. The ball was crossed from the left flank where Youssef En-Nesyri jumped and headed the ball into the net. However, it was questionable keeping from Diogo Costa, the Portuguese keeper, that allowed the goal to happen.
Portugal then put incredible pressure on the Moroccan net and Bruno Fernandes had the best chance when his volley was only denied by the crossbar. The incessant whistling by the Moroccan fans when Portugal had the ball must have been enough of a distraction to stop the Portuguese from evening the score as the first half ended.
The second half started and Portugal had clearly been told to move the ball faster and get the ball forward. However, it was the Moroccans who had the first chance of the half. An incredible cross by Hakim Ziyech was turned onto goal and it was a great reaction save by Diogo Costa to keep it out. Fernando Santos had seen enough and it was time for changes. Bruno Neves and Raphael Guerreiro were removed with Joao Cancelo and Cristiano Ronaldo coming on to add to the attacking requirements. Would it be enough?
Portugal started to press and it was Bruno Fernandes who almost tied the game when he blazed a shot over the bar. The pressure on Morocco was mounting and their challenge was made even greater when Roman Saiss was injured and was taken off the field on a stretcher. The whistling was incessant as the Portuguese were controlling the ball completely.
Portugal played another roll of the dice when they brought on the highly-rated Rafael Leao along with Vitinha. Portugal needed some magic from somewhere. The Moroccans were standing firm and with all of the Portuguese pressing it was not surprising when Morocco broke out and only poor finishing denied the Moroccans. Morocco switched to five at the back and were almost asking Portugal to come and get them.
At the 80 minute mark, Boufal and Ziyech were removed and the fresh legs of Jabrane and Aboukal were brought on to see the game out. The pressure was mounting and Joao Felix was again the player who forced a brilliant save from Yassine Bounou. For Morocco it was anywhere will do. The whistling was getting louder and everyone wondered if the Atlas Lions could hold out.
At the 90th minute the moment for Ronaldo arrived and his low drive was stopped by Bounou. The board went up and the number 8 was glowing red. Walid Cheddira was given a yellow and then in minutes he was walking off the field after receiving his second yellow. The pressure was immense and the Atlas Lions were now down a man. If Portugal scored, how would the Moroccans survive for the extra time.
The final moments of the match were ticking by and the Portuguese were starting to to make panicked decisions. Long balls were being lobbed forward. Leao crossed the ball and Pepe headed narrowly wide. The inevitability of the outcome was becoming clear. Africa was going to have a team in the final four. The whistle was blown and the Moroccan miracle had come to fruition.
Portugal threw everything at the Africans. Cristiano Ronaldo was given a chance to come in and save the day but he only extended the number of knockout games where he has not scored. Portugal had most of the possession but they could not break down the determined work of Morocco are undefeated in 10 games while conceding only 2 goals. The Atlas Lions now meet the winner of the France/England match. They are flying. Will they be able to get their players fit for their next historic step? Can they be broken down?