NFL News & Analysis

FIFA World Cup 2022 Quarterfinal Preview: Morocco vs. Portugal — December 10, 2022

Doha, Qatar; Morocco forward Abdelhamid Sabiri (right) celebrates with midfielder Hakim Ziyech (left) after winning a group stage match against Canada to finish in first place in their group during the 2022 World Cup at Al Thumama Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY Sports

Morocco can make history by becoming the first African nation to reach the World Cup semifinals with a win over Portugal at the Al Thumama Stadium on Saturday.

Both teams are coming off huge triumphs to reach this stage of the tournament: Morocco’s shock penalty-shootout win over Spain cost Spanish coach Luis Enrique his job, while Portugal smashed six goals past Switzerland.

On the face of it, no player had a better game than Portugal’s Gonçalo Ramos in the Round of 16. Preferred to start in place of Cristiano Ronaldo, Ramos' hat-trick against the Swiss was the first recorded in the World Cup knockouts since 1990.

Morocco Key Player: Hakim Ziyech

Ziyech has been a force for Morocco. In the Round of 16, his 88.1 passing grade ranked first among all wingers.

The Chelsea playmaker was left out of the team’s squad for the African Cup of Nations earlier this year — when they failed to make it past the quarterfinals. However, a change in coach has seen Ziyech reintroduced as the focal point of the Moroccan Attack, and he has received the most line-breaking passes (25) among his teammates so far.

Portugal Key Player: Bruno Fernandes

Spain recorded only one shot on target against Morocco, so key to Portugal’s chances will be Bruno Fernandes’ ability to find away past the stout Moroccan defense.

The Manchester United man leads his team in through-ball passes completed and has twice as many defensive-line-breaking passes (8) than any other teammate. The elite range of distribution has seen Fernandes attain an 89.4 passing grade in Qatar.

Matchup to watch: Gonçalo Ramos vs. Morocco’s central defenders

Much of Morocco’s feel-good run at the World Cup is owed to their stout center-back pairing of Romain Saiss and Nayef Aguerd, the latter of whom earned a place in our Team of the Last 16 alongside Ramos.

Aguerd has won 83.0% of his challenges so far, second among players at his position, and he is yet to be beaten by a dribble attempt. Questions surround the fitness of the West Ham defender after he left the Last of 16 game late with an injury, but early indications are that it is minor.

Still, that could play into the hands of Ramos as he attempts to follow on from his near-perfect Round of 16 performance. The Benfica forward hit the target with each of his five attempts on goal, topping the shooting grades for the round at 89.3.

Interestingly, Morocco goalkeeper Yassine Bounou has faced the same number of shots on target all tournament as Ramos managed against the Swiss, conceding only one goal.


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