Cristiano Ronaldo, the game’s fading force, turned on his heels as the final whistle blew and walked down the tunnel in tears while barely shaking anyone’s hand. The group of miracle workers from Morocco, meantime, went arm in arm to the sideline and simultaneously knelt to pray to Allah.
A first-ever major semi-final for all of Africa is being celebrated by this team of daring explorers, a breath of fresh air in a football.
The transition was thrown into clear focus by a self-absorbed Ronaldo skulking off while the entire football world spun on its axis. In contrast, Morocco heard the comradery of 1.9 billion Muslims blaring their horns alongside them in every major city. Instead of celebrating with champagne, Sofiane Boufal and his mother did a jig on the field.
After the game, Yassine Bounou, their man-of-the-match goalie, declared, “We’re here to change a mentality – no more inferiority.” Even more persuasive was the manager Walid Regragui’s statement, “We are the Rocky Balboa of this World Cup.”
How far can his ragtag group of mavericks and journeymen advance? When it comes to trips against the odds, we have already into Leicester City 2016 territory. Regragui emphasized that his team’s success is largely due to their communal nature, which serves as a counterbalance to Ronaldo’s attitude.
Because we are demonstrating to the world that you can succeed even if you don’t have as much talent and money, we are the team that everyone loves in this World Cup, he said. “No miracle exists. Many of you will disagree, particularly in Europe, yet we defeated Belgium, Spain, and Portugal without giving up a goal. We have inspired pride among our people, the inhabitants of our continent, and countless others. You want to stand by Rocky Balboa when you watch Rocky.”
Portugal made the biggest error possible by allowing the Moroccans to score first against Regragui’s exceptionally well-prepared team. The first half had gone perfectly for them thanks to the outstanding Sofyan Amrabat, a prospective Liverpool target, lying deep in front of the backline.
The noise that followed the Moroccan goal five minutes before halftime was the loudest in the World Cup. The most boisterous 45,000 people in attendance included only 400 Portugal supporters at most. Yahia Attiyat Allah had lofted a hopeful cross, and there will be doubts regarding hesitation on the part of the defenders and the frequently dubious goalkeeper Diogo Costa. But Youssef En-Nesyri of Sevilla perfectly timed his leap, lifted high by a continent cheering him on, to deliver a thunderous header home.
The Moroccans had the ideal setting to launch their tried-and-true game plan of defending for their lives thanks to the crowd’s cacophony of whistles every time Portugal touched the ball. Fernando Santos, the head coach of Portugal, paced back and forth in the technical room while biting his finger and appearing more and more grumpy.
He later claimed of his choice to put Ronaldo on the bench, "I've no regrets."
After 51 minutes, the 37-year-old was finally introduced, but not before 40,000 Moroccan whistles from the crowd horrified him. The only drawback to witnessing the team’s outstanding development is the loud noise, which serves as this tournament’s vuvuzela.
However, despite having ringing in his ears, Ronaldo never truly threatened, and Bruno Fernandes, a former teammate of Ronaldo’s at United, was beside himself with his team’s troubles, gesticulating frantically at his errors. After one magnificent shot brushed over, he was incensed. Later, after wasting a free kick late in the game, he appeared on the verge of tears like Ronaldo.
Santos’ future is in grave doubt as he returns to Portugal on Sunday. He stated that he had not yet made up his mind but that he would be meeting with the head of the national federation.
Naturally, our players are upset, he continued. “We are even more disappointed because we are aware of our players’ outstanding ability levels and anticipated them to bring the Portuguese people more delight. Because we were unable to do so, we feel sad. Now that we were unable to win the game, all of our players are disappointed.”
Before adding, “Inshallah,” Regragui said, “Football is the best sport in the world, you can believe and dream, and it is a big message for the world right now.
I don’t feel bad about leaving Ronaldo on the sidelines. Regarding the team, it wouldn’t make any difference because I can’t be thinking with my heart.
There was no need to adjust my team [against Morocco] from the performance against Switzerland.
One of the hardest decisions I had to make involved strategy, but I had to do it without using my emotions as a guide.
Ronaldo is still a talented player, therefore that has nothing to do with anything.