Yet Morocco’s storybook race has millions of Arabs, Muslims and North Africans banding together behind a single team in a way this tournament has not seen.
A short guide to the 2022 World Cup
What is the World Cup? The quadrennial event pits the best national football teams against each other for the title of world champion. Here is an introduction to the 2022 men’s tournament:
That fanatical support was on full display inside the Al Thumama stadium, which for 90 minutes (plus eight minutes of breathtaking added time) looked like a corner of Casablanca, Rabat or Marrakech. Every spell of Portuguese possession was met with shrill whistles, and every Moroccan foray in the other direction was met with the kind of loud cheers that threatened to fire the ball into the Portuguese net.
The next leg of Morocco’s magical journey will come against France in a semi-final match on Wednesday, pitting the former colony against its former colonizer. But as Morocco celebrated Saturday’s victory, the result almost certainly meant the end of another era.
Ronaldo arrived in Qatar as one of the most famous people in the world, one of the best players to ever play football. But at 37, he arrived almost as a clumsy tourist. He no longer played for a professional club, after being dropped by Manchester United. And his position in Portugal’s starting line-up, which he had held for almost two decades, was precarious. By the time Portugal reached the knockout stages, they had lost it.
Against Switzerland, Ronaldo saw his young replacement, Gonçalo Ramos, announce himself as heir apparent, scoring three superb goals.
But against Morocco’s fierce defence, Ramos and the Portuguese crumbled as the wall of whistles came to a head and stayed there. Ronaldo entered the scene with 40 minutes to play, a platform to produce yet another heroic act, one final cinematic moment in a career filled with cinematic moments.
At the time of an attack that featured a line of four strikers in ever more desperate attempts to break through Moroccan resistance, Ronaldo could not bend the World Cup to his will. He ran, he chased bullets in the back, he jumped to put his head in the bullets, he tried to find shooting angles, anything and everything to break the Moroccan barrier in red shirt.
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