Assuring hero status forever more, Achraf Hakimi applied the most delicate of finishing touches to Morocco’s defensive masterclass on Tuesday, as his ‘Panenka’ penalty condemned Spain to a 3-0 shootout defeat and sent the North African nation through to the quarter-finals.
Becoming just the fourth African side to reach the last eight at a World Cup – and the first for 12 years – sent a packed Education City Stadium wild, as it was largely populated by Moroccan fans whose fervour has proved such a prominent feature of these finals.
Fending off members of the European establishment such as Croatia and Belgium also saw them finish first in Group F earlier on in the campaign, so tackling Portugal should hold no fears for the quarter-finals’ outsiders.
Despite a late lapse against South Korea when already qualified, Santos had seen his side negotiate 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 well believe they can now lift the trophy for the very first time.
After his very public demotion on Tuesday, Portugal’s most-capped player (195) and all-time leading goalscorer (118) Cristiano Ronaldo now finds himself consigned to the bench, and new Selecao star Goncalo Ramos starts up front instead.
Another of his less-heralded inclusions, Otavio, should continue in midfield, while William Carvalho hopes to hold off the challenge of Ruben Neves to retain his place in the Portuguese engine room.
Meanwhile, Nuno Mendes was earlier ruled out of the knockout stages due to injury and Danilo is still a doubt.
In the latter’s likely absence, Ruben Dias should partner 39-year-old Pepe at the heart of the back four.
In contrast to some chopping and changing in the Portugal lineup, Morocco have fielded a relatively settled XI throughout the finals.
The ever-present centre-back faces a race against time after he was taken off in tears during the victory over Spain, and captain Romain Saiss completed the game with strapping to his leg.
Both full-backs have also experienced injury issues in Qatar, but if all are available, a side spearheaded by attacking trio Sofiane Boufal, Hakim Ziyech and Youssef En-Nesyri will look very similar to that which eliminated La Roja.
Possible starting lineup:
Data will be available at kick off time or sooner.
Morocco = 9.4%
Draw = 13.1%
Portugal = 77.5%
Morocco 1-3 Portugal
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