Achraf Hakimi put the finest of finishing touches on Morocco’s defensive masterclass on Tuesday, ensuring hero status for all time. His “Panenka” penalty sent the North African country through to the quarterfinals while handing Spain a 3-0 shootout loss.
In order to grind out a scoreless draw and set up a thrilling finish, Walid Regragui’s team had to fight valiantly against the Spanish “death by a thousand passes” strategy. In doing so, they had to sacrifice the majority of their possession. Yassine Bounou, the goalkeeper, joined Hakimi as an everlasting legend in Rabat, Marrakech, and beyond.
In a packed Education City Stadium, which was primarily filled with Moroccan fans whose fervour has proven to be such a prominent feature of these finals, becoming just the fourth African side to reach the last eight at a World Cup – and the first in 12 years – sent the crowd wild.
Regragui’s team has made history for both their country and the Arab region. The Atlas Lions’ only other appearance in the round of 16 was back in 1986. In the process, they kept a remarkable sixth clean sheet in their last seven games, extending their World Cup unbeaten streak to five games.
With the talent and dedication of Hakimi, fellow fullback Noussair Mazraoui, their centre backs, and tireless midfield mainstay Sofyan Amrabat, a Morocco team made up in part of expatriates has grown into one of the toughest defensive units in all of international football.
Fighting off members of the European elite like Croatia and Belgium earlier in the campaign also helped them finish first in Group F, so facing Portugal shouldn’t be a concern for the quarterfinal underdogs.
This week, the Selecao easily defeated Switzerland and advanced to the quarterfinals of Qatar 2022, rewarding Fernando Santos for asserting his leadership by benching Portugal’s legendary captain.
With the ageing superstar Cristiano Ronaldo gone, the team was able to launch a much more flexible and proactive attack, and Goncalo Ramos, a rising star at Benfica, was more than capable of taking over as the deposed king.
On his very first senior start, the 21-year-old scored an unstoppable opening goal and then went on to score a fairytale hat-trick in Portugal’s 6-1 victory. It was the first treble of the competition.
Rafael Leao, a winger for Milan, scored the final goal of his team’s rout of the Swiss to dispel any remaining doubts about Portuguese football’s future by making the entire world sit up and take notice.
Santos’ team managed safe passage through the World Cup’s opening round as Group H winners, and with three victories and 12 goals already, they may well believe they can now lift the trophy for the very first time. This is despite a late slip-up against South Korea when they had already qualified.
Portugal, who were Eusebio-inspired semi-finalists in 1966, has more recently defied the expectations of their relatively small population by winning both the Euros and the Nations League.
For all their success at youth level, too, the Iberians have never made it to a senior global final, but Saturday’s clash with Morocco presents a chance to take one step closer to the beautiful game’s grandest prize.
1×2 Betting Odds
In their previous World Cup final match, which took place in 1986, Morocco prevailed 3-1.
However, 36 years later, the outcome may be very different.
Even the Atlas Lions’ tenacious defensive effort will undoubtedly fall short against one of the tournament’s most formidable teams.
And the odds reflect that feeling.
Morocco became only the 4th African nation ever to reach the quarter finals of the World Cup, and to reach even further they have to defeat Portugal. And their odds of doing just that stand @ 6.25.
Cristiano or no Cristiano, Portugal are the heavy favourites to win this, with odds @ 1.68.
The possibility of a stalemate, after the 90 mins are played, stands @ 3.9.
Total goals over/under
The odds that the total number of goals score will be over 2.5, stands @ 2.22.
While the odds that the total number of goals will be under 2.5, stands @ 1.74.