World Cup 2022 quarter-final preview: Morocco v Portugal – Can the Atlas Lions make history?

Morocco could become the first African side to make it through to the last four of a World Cup tomorrow, with a Portugal side firing on all cylinders standing in their way.

The game kicks off tomorrow at 15:00, with coverage on ITV starting at 14:00.

Historical context

The two previous World Cup meetings between the two nations were separated by 32 years.

Morocco struck the first blow in 1986, with a 3-1 group stage over Portugal on their way to their first ever knockout stage appearance.

An early Cristiano Ronaldo goal meant their next meeting ended in a 1-0 Portugal victory in 2018.

Ronaldo also was on target against Morocco during a group clash at the 2004 Athens Olympics, scoring in a 2-1 Portuguese win in front of 7,581 at Pankritio Stadium.

This will the tenth meeting of the countries, and one that will serve as another reminder of their tumultuous colonial history.

Moroccan fans provided a hostile atmosphere for their Spanish opposition on Tuesday and will be expected to do the same on Saturday.

Portugal and Spain came to an agreement in 1496 on the areas each empire could attempt to colonise, with the former conquering six Moroccan cities on the Atlantic coast before abandoning them a century later.

Morocco could become the first African side to reach a World Cup semi-final, and in turn fly the flag for a post-colonial shake-up.

Team News

Although the Moroccan legs may be heavy, manager Walid Regragui’ will be content to leave the team well enough alone after a heroic performance from his men in red and green. 

Spanish born Achraf Hakimi returned to fitness to condemn Spain to a last 16 exit with a Panenka from the penalty spot, and he will retain his place on Morocco’s dangerous right-hand side.

However, there is a possible issue in the position of centre-back, as both Romain Saiss and Nayef Aguerd picked up knocks during their battle with La Roja. 

Saiss finished the 120 minutes, albeit heavily strapped, but Aguerd limped off after going down numerous times, which leaves space for Jawad El Yamiq or Badr Benoun to make a start. 

Portugal manager Fernando Santos was rewarded for several bold selection choices, and the performance of hat-trick hero Goncalo Ramos has likely designated Ronaldo to the bench for their meeting with Morocco. 

Joao Cancelo will hope to restore his place in the starting line-up, after being ousted in favour of Diogo Dalot. 

In midfield, Otavio made his return from injury against Switzerand, and he will likely start alongside Bernardo Silva, yet it remains to be seen whether William Carvalho or Ruben Neves will join them. 

Key Battles

Yassine Bounou vs Portugal forwards

Morocco keeper Yassine Bounou has been in imperious form throughout the tournament, conceding the fewest number of goals (1) of any side and carrying the Atlas Lions through their penalty shootout with Spain.

Of course he has had help from the excellent back four in front of him of Achraf Hakimi, Nayef Aguerd, Romain Saiss and Noussair Mazraoui but Bounou is the steady, calming presence that all modern keepers aim to be.

He also has a strong save record of 13 out of the last 50 penalties he’s faced, including the penalties of both Carlos Soler and Sergio Busquets, as well as going the right way for Pablo Sarabia’s strike that hit the post.

However Portugal have scored a tournament high 12 goals, with a range of scorers including Bruno Fernandes, Joao Felix, Raphael Leao and most recently Goncalo Ramos, so they may well pose Bounou his biggest threat yet. 

Hakim Ziyech vs Raphael Guerreiro

Morocco’s key attacking outlet will undoubtedly be Hakim Ziyech, who so far has been his nations shining light going forward.

Ziyech loves to cut in onto his favoured left foot from the right hand side and deliver pinpoint crosses, so it will be the job of Borussia Dortmund left back Raphael Guerreiro to stop Morocco’s most cultured asset.

Guerreiro has struggled for injuries this season but seems to have rediscovered some form, rampaging up the left side to slot home against Switzerland in the last 16.

However these trademark runs are exactly what Ziyech could exploit as Walid Regragui’s side will look to punish Portugal on the counter and expose the lack of pace 39-year-old Pepe has in the hole left by Guerreiro.

Cristiano Ronaldo vs The Bench

Once again Ronaldo dominates the narrative around this game but, after being dropped for the match against Switzerland for the free-scoring youngster Gonçalo Ramos, it looks like Fernando Santos will repeat this decision.

Ronaldo was benched in an apparently tactical call from Santos and will have to watch the start of the game from the side-lines, a place that’s becoming all the more familiar for Portugal’s captain and record goal scorer.

However time and again Ronaldo has proved himself to be a handy weapon in knock-out games, often turning up for the moments when he is most needed, and what better time to do it than in a World Cup quarter final.

Route to the quarter-final

Despite doubts surrounding their manager’s ability to lead, Portugal sailed through Group H to finish top of their table despite losing to South Korea 2-1 in their final match. 

The Seleção side went on to impress further in their most recent meeting with Switzerland in the last-16, where Gonçalo Ramos scored the first hat-trick of the finals to win 6-1. 

Led by Cristiano Ronaldo as captain the team have done well to score a total of 12 goals so far and continue their chase for their first ever title win. 

Morocco, however, are seen as more of a dark horse to have shown up to the quarter-finals as they are the last African nation left in the tournament and the fourth ever to reach this stage of a World Cup.

Like Portugal, Morocco also finished top of their group after beating Belgium and Canada, despite a goalless draw with Croatia. 

The Atlas Lions then sent shockwaves through the Education City Stadium after a penalty shootout upset against Spain, where they efficiently scored three of their four penalties and earned them a deserved space in the quarterfinals. 

Possible starting XIs


GK: Yassine Bouno, RB: Achraf Hakimi, CB: Jawad El Yamiq (Aguerd), CB: Badr Benoun (saiss), LB: Noussair Mazraoui, CM: Azzedine Ounahi, CM: Sofyan Amrabat, CM: Selim Amallah, RW: Hakim Ziyech, ST: Youssef En-Nesyri, LW: Sofiane Boufal 


GK: Diogo Costa, RB: Diogo Dalot, CB: Pepe, CB: Ruben Dias, LB: Raphael Guerreiro, CM: Otavio, CM: William Carvalho, CM: Bernardo Silva, RW: Bruno Fernandes, ST: Goncalo Ramos, LW: Joao Felix


Morocco to win on penalties.

Photo by Антон Зайцев via Wikimedia Commons under

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