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Morocco make African history, England fall to France & more

The second day of the World Cup quarter-finals kept up the drama, as we got two more great games of football.

Morocco made history by becoming the first African side to win a quarter-final and dumped Portugal out in the early kick-off. Later, England and France went head to head.

Quarter-Final: Morocco 1-0 Portugal

Morocco were the first African nation to qualify for the World Cup knockout stage back in 1986, when they beat Portugal in their final group match to do so.

Thirty-six years later, they sought to create yet more African history against the same opposition, looking to become the first side from the continent to reach the semi-finals.

Fernando Santos named the same XI so Gonçalo Ramos started ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo again. Morocco had to make a couple of forced changes, but their game plan remained the same, centred around their compact 4-1-4-1 defensive block.

Portugal looked to use their advanced full-backs as well as long balls to pose a threat in the final third, and although they looked a lot better than Spain, they too struggled to create clear openings.

Morocco’s possession play against a high press was quite slick too, as they were able to play through it regularly. Their opening goal came in the 42nd minute after a turnover high up the pitch, which led to the ball reaching left-back Yahia Attiyat Allah.

He delivered a cross into the box, which the towering Youssef En-Nesyri headed into an empty net from just in front of the hands of Diogo Costa, who did not seem to expect the striker to reach it.

Portugal piled on the pressure in the second half and tested Morocco’s resolve right to its limit, as did the injury-enforced departure of Romain Saïss before the hour-mark.

They did pose a decent counter-attacking threat and played through Portugal’s counter-press well, but Walid Regragui decided to send on an extra centre-back in the 65th minute and switch to a 5-4-1.

It was almost all Portugal after that as they brought the likes of Ronaldo, João Cancelo and Rafael Leão on, but they still found it tough to get into good goal-scoring positions. Yassine Bounou was called into action when facing some attempts from range, though, and he stood up to the task.

Morocco had to survive the last minutes of stoppage time with ten men after Walid Cheddira got sent off, but they just about did so, with Pepe missing the target with a 97th-minute header from inside the six-yard box.

This result had a lot of ramifications beyond the record books too. Most of such discussions were centred around Ronaldo, who has likely played his last World Cup and left without ever managing to score in the knockouts.

But, this was a huge result for African football because CAF will now have a stronger case for getting one more berth in the 2026 Men’s World Cup by virtue of having a team in the semi-final here in Qatar, so there is good reason for all of Africa to celebrate.

Quarter-Final: England 1-2 France

The last quarter-final had the biggest match-up in terms of team quality, as defending champions France took on 2020 European Championship finalists England.

The match did not get off to the fastest of starts, as most would have expected. England kept more possession, but were quite conservative on the ball.

Kyle Walker stayed deep as an auxiliary full-back again, unsurprisingly so too given the fact that Kylian Mbappé stays high in their 4-4-2 defensive shape. He was the outlet for most of his team’s transitions, of which there were a good few as England took a few loose touches in midfield.

It certainly was going to take a moment of real quality to impact the scoreline, and that came in the 17th minute. Dayot Upamecano took the ball off Bukayo Saka (in controversial fashion) and carried it forward, before releasing Mbappé.

The Paris Saint-Germain star attracted three opponents but still managed to drift inside. Eventually, the ball got to Antoine Griezmann, who laid it off to Aurélien Tchouaméni, who took a touch to set himself before picking out the bottom corner from range.

England started to look a lot better in the second period and began to look more threatening. Bukayo Saka was their brightest spark throughout the match, and he won a penalty less than 10 minutes after the break. Harry Kane stepped up to take it and dispatched it past his club teammate Hugo Lloris.

The Three Lions looked likelier to score the second goal of the second half, but it was France who got it. In the 78th minute, Griezmann swung in a great cross for the head of Olivier Giroud, who scored his fourth goal in as many games at the 2022 World Cup.

England looked set to deliver a prompt response when Kane stepped to take another penalty in the 84th minute after a VAR intervention, but he skied it, and with his shot, sent his nation’s hopes of a World Cup out of Qatar.

Despite a sub-par performance, the French march on in their bid to become the first team to retain the Men’s World Cup trophy since 1962. The next team in their path will be Morocco.

👀 Looking Ahead

We have another two days off before the semi-finals, so let us get some rest and look ahead to the two big matches.

Stats courtesy Opta via FotMob.

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