Still, Morocco’s storybook run has millions of Arabs, Muslims and North Africans coalescing behind a single team in a way that this tournament has not seen.
A Brief Guide to the 2022 World Cup
That fanatical support was in full display inside the Al Thumama Stadium, which for 90 minutes (plus eight minutes of heart-stopping injury time) resembled a corner of Casablanca, Rabat or Marrakesh. Every period of Portuguese possession was met with ear-piercing whistles, and every Moroccan incursion the other way greeted with the type of boisterous cheering that threatened to pull the ball into the Portuguese net.
The next step of Morocco’s magical journey will come against France in a semifinal game Wednesday, setting 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 play soccer in any era. But at age 37, he arrived almost as an awkward tourist. He no longer played for a professional club, having been dumped by Manchester United. And his position in Portugal’s starting lineup, which he had gripped for nearly two decades, was tenuous. By the time Portugal reached the round of 16, he had lost it.
Against Switzerland, Ronaldo watched as his young replacement, Gonçalo Ramos, announced himself as an heir apparent, scoring a stunning three goals.
But against Morocco’s iron-willed defense, Ramos and the Portuguese wilted as the wall of whistles reached fever pitch and stayed there. Ronaldo entered the stage with 40 minutes left, a platform to produce one more heroic act, a final cinematic moment in a career filled with cinematic moments.
At the point of an attack that featured a line of four forwards in ever more desperate attempts to break Moroccan resistance, Ronaldo could not bend the World Cup to his will. He ran, he chased balls in behind, he leaped to get his head to balls, he tried to find shooting angles, everything and anything to break the redshirted Moroccan barrier.