(Football news) Morocco will face Portugal at Al Thumama Stadium on Saturday and both teams are set to battle it out for a place in the final four. The Atlas Lions won against Spain to reach the quarter finals stage for the first time while the Selecao slayed Switzerland in the last 16 to reach this stage. The Morccoans battled hard to resist the Spanish ‘death by a thousand passes’ approach as Walid Regragui’s side had sacrificed the bulk of possession to grind out a goalless draw and forced the match to penalties during which goalkeeper Yassine Bounou saved two spot-kicks and joined Hakimi as an eternal icon in Marrakech.
Morocco became the fourth African side to reach the last eight at a World Cup and the first since 12 years. The Atlas Lions’ only previous appearance in the last 16 came in 1986, and Regragui’s men have not only broken new records for their nation but also the Arab world. They have kept a remarkable sixth clean sheet from their last seven matches in the tournament. With the quality and commitment of Hakimi and also fellow full-back Noussair Mazraoui, plus their combined effort of the centre-backs and tireless midfielder anchor Sofyan Amrabat, Morocco have developed into one of international football’s meanest defensive units. They fended off the likes of Croatia and Belgium which saw them finish first in Group F so tackling Portugal should hold no fears for the quarter-finals’ so called outsiders.
Fernando Santos was rewarded for asserting his authority by benching Ronaldo as the Selecao stormed past Switzerland and into the last eight of Qatar 2022. They were a far more mobile and proactive attack without superstar Cristiano Ronaldo and his replacement, Goncalo Ramos was certainly up to the task of replacing the dethroned king. The 21-year-old went on to complete a fairytale hat-trick in Portugal’s 6-1 victory, and his was the first hattrick of the tournament on his very first senior start.
Despite a late lapse against South Korea, Santos had seen his side a safe passage through the World Cup’s first phase as Group H winners, and with three wins and 12 goals to their name already, they may have tremendous belief they can now lift the trophy for the very first time. The Eusebio-inspired semi-finalists in 1966 will draw the same inspiration from that team as Portugal have recently won both the Euros and Nations League. For all their success at youth level, the Iberians have never made it to a senior global final, but Saturday’s game against Morocco presents a chance to take one step closer to the grandest prize.
Morocco possible starting lineup:
Bounou; Hakimi, Saiss, Aguerd, Mazraoui; Ounahi, Amrabat, Amallah; Ziyech, En-Nesyri, Boufal
Portugal possible starting lineup:
Costa; Dalot, Pepe, Dias, Guerreiro; B. Silva, Carvalho, Otavio; Fernandes, Ramos, Felix