Morocco’s fairytale run in Qatar reached historic dimensions on Saturday when they became the first African team to reach a World Cup semi-final with a 1-0 triumph over Portugal.

Youssef En-Nesyri headed the historic goal in the 42nd minute when he beat Portugal goalkeeper Diogo Costa to a cross from Yahya Attiat-Allah.

Ronaldo was again not in the starting line-up but came on in the 51st minute for his 196th cap which equalled the world record from Saudi Arabia’s Badr al-Mutawa.

However, he was unable to force a turnaround for Portugal and left the pitch in tears.

Bruno Fernandes was denied by the crossbar before half-time.

Morocco also held on after substitute Walid Cheddira was sent off for a second bookable offence early in eight minutes of stoppage time.

The largely Moroccan crowd at Al Thumami Stadium and the team erupted in joy after the Atlas Lions ended Africa’s quarter-final jinx in a fourth attempt.

This was after Cameroon in 1990, Senegal in 2002 and Ghana in 2010 had all gone out in the last eight.

“It is an unbelievable feeling. No one thought we could do it. I said last week that we wanted to end the curse,” Morocco’s Abdelhamid Sabiri said.

Coach Walid Regragui also said: “Africa is back on the map of football today. We had the mentality. We knew we could make history for Africa.

“We had the right attitude for our people, for us, for Africa. It is always difficult for us African coaches. You don’t think we can handle such teams tactically.”

Portugal coach Fernando Santos said: “We had difficulties in the first half, it took us a long time to get into the game.

“The players had the will but we couldn’t play to our strengths, even though we had goalscoring chances.”

Morocco will now continue on Wednesday when they face either title-holders France or Euro 2020 runners-up England who complete the quarter-finals line-up later on Saturday.

“We are taking it one match at a time. We want to win every game,” Sabiri said.

Morocco have only let in one goal in their five games in Qatar, an own goal from Nayef Aguerd in the group game against Canada.

They had kept 2018 runners-up Croatia, long-time world ranking leaders Belgium, 2010 champions Spain and now Euro 2016 winners Portugal scoreless.

Santos chose youngster Gonçalo Ramos over the 37-year-old Ronaldo just like in the 6-1 rout of Switzerland in the last 16 where Ramos had scored a hat-trick.

The only change was Ruben Neves replacing William Carvalho in midfield.

Regragui had to replace injured key defenders Noussair Mazraoui and Nayef Aguerd, with Yahia Attiyat Allah fielded.

Portugal had an early chance from João Felix’ diving header.

But they were denied by goalkeeper Yassine Bounou who had famously saved two penalty kicks by Spain in their last 16 shootout win.

Atletico Madrid’s Felix remained the main threat and his attempt later from a distance took a wicked deflection off Jawad El Yamiq and went inches over.

At the other end, En-Nesyri headed high from a promising position.

Chelsea’s Hakim Ziyech shot well wide from a distance, and Selim Amallah was also off target when he should have done better.

That showed the Moroccans would not rely solely on their firm defence.

They were awarded in the 42nd minute when En-Nesyri rose high in the air to beat Costa to Attiat-Allah’s cross and head in.

Portugal were however almost level before half-time when Bruno Fernandes surprised Bounou from a right angle but his effort hit the crossbar.

Costa kept a dangerous free-kick cross out with plenty of traffic in front of him.

Ronaldo then came on in the 51st minute to join Ramos up front in search of the equaliser.

Ramos incredibly headed wide in the 57th minute completely unmarked before being taken off 10 minutes later, while Fernandes shot just over the bar.

Morocco hardly came out of their half, but Bounou tipped Felix’ 82nd-minute drive over the bar and was also on his guard against Ronaldo.

Cheddira was then sent off over a second yellow card, but Zakaria Aboukhlal should have clinched victory on the only late counter-attack.

This almost backfired when Portugal got one last chance from Pepe which however went wide.

“It’s really unbelievable, I’m so proud. It’s like a dream, unbelievable we’re in the semi-final,” Morocco midfielder Sofyan Amrabat said.

“We deserve this, 1000 percent. How we fight, how we play, with our hearts for our country, for the people —- it’s unbelievable.(NAN)