AL THUMAMA, Qatar – Yo, Morocco, you did it.

Playing a defensive, countering style at odds with the rest of the teams left in the World Cup, Morocco became the first African nation to reach the tournament’s semifinal round with a historic, 1-0 win against Portugal on Saturday.

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“We are the Rocky Balboa of this World Cup,” Morocco coach Walid Regragui said.

Unlike Rocky, though, Morocco haven’t been knocked down.

“We are the team that everyone loves in this World Cup because we are showing the world you can succeed even if you don’t have as much talent and money,” Regragui added.

“It is no miracle. Many of you will say it is, especially in Europe, but we have beaten Belgium, Spain and Portugal without conceding. We have made our people proud and our continent and so many people around, when you watch Rocky you want to support Rocky Balboa.”

Through five matches, the only goal Morocco has allowed was an own goal against Canada. In addition to the wins against Portugal, Belgium and Spain, Regragui’s side also kept a clean sheet against fellow semifinalist Croatia.

Considering the stakes, the performance against Portugal, who put six past Switzerland in the round of 16, might have been the best.

“Pinch me, I’m dreaming,” Morocco goalkeeper Yassine Bounou said. “Morocco is ready to face anyone in the world. We have changed the mentality of the generation coming after us. They’ll know Moroccan players can create miracles.”

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Playing with 73.2% of the possession, Portugal took 12 shots, but managed just three on goal, none of which really bothered Bounou.

All of this came with a backline that was missing two regular starters — Noussair Mazraoui (illness) and Nayef Aguerd (injury) — and lost center-back Romain Saiss to injury in the 57th minute.

Saiss said he will undergo medical evaluations on Sunday and will attempt to be ready for the semifinal on Wednesday.

“If I feel it’s too difficult, I won’t take any risks to put my team in trouble in the semifinal,” Saiss said. “Of course, I’ll do everything I can to be there.”

And Regragui said there’s no reason for Morocco’s World Cup dream to end in the last four.

“What’s important for future generations is we’ve shown that it is possible for an African team to get to the semifinals of the World Cup. Or even the final, why not?” he said.

“In one press conference three or four matches ago, I was asked we could win the World Cup. And I said, ‘Why not?’ We can dream. Why shouldn’t we dream? If you don’t dream, you don’t get anywhere. It doesn’t cost you anything.”



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We’re the World Cup’s Rocky Balboa