Morocco made history by reaching the semi-final of the FIFA World Youth Championship Netherlands 2005 after overcoming Italy on penalties with the sides finishing level at 2-2 after extra time. 

The Europeans, who had an earlier spotkick saved, fought back twice to equalise through Michele Canini and Francesco Pelle in front of a heavily pro-Moroccan crowd in Utrecht. But Nabil El Zhar, who scored the opening goal, had the last kick, shooting Morocco through to a place in the final four against the Netherlands or Nigeria. Italy, who were reduced to 10 men in extra-time, leave in their usual manner - beaten on penalties.

"There is not one hero today," said coach Jamal Fathi, responding to a question on the performance of goalkeeper Mohammed Bourkani, "but 21. All the squad played a part in this victory. They all deserve praise."

His Italian counterpart Paolo Berrettini was generous in defeat: "It's a shame to go out like that but it's not easy when so many people want you to miss. My players showed great character in the game."

With the vast majority of the crowd at the Galgenwaard stadium behind Morocco, it was an intimidating atmosphere for the young Italians. Graziano Pelle had the first chance of the game and a good one at that, glancing Antonio Nocerino's free kick just wide of the far post in the opening minute. But the Azzurini were quickly on the back foot as, urged on by a deafening noise and unconcerned by the sweltering heat, the Junior Lions began at their usual frantic pace.

Ajax Amsterdam's local hero Rachid Tiberkanine was back in favour and together with El Zhar Nabil, the two set the rhythm - though the crowd's fast clap may have had something to do with it.

Italy were throwing high balls towards the huge figure of Pelle, who had struck three goals in the last two games, but with little success.

Morocco's own star forward, Iajour Mouhssine, had begun quietly. On 26 minutes he burst into life, beating two men down the left and crossing for El Zhar to toe the ball in off the underside of the bar (1:0, '26)

Thanks largely to defensive attempts to get a hold of Pelle, Italy were winning lots of free kicks. A minute before half-time, Daniele Galloppa almost embarrassed Mohammed Bourkadi as his over-hit centre came back off the bar.

Paolo Berrettini's side finally put a quality move together. The ball was sprayed to the right, Marino Defendi centred for Simone Bentivoglio to head back across goal. Pelle thundered a header off the bar but in the ensuing goalmouth scramble the ball was handled.

Bentivoglio stepped up but Bourkadi guessed right. More encroachment and a retake was ordered. It did not matter. The Juventus midfielder choose to shoot the penalty down the middle where the Moroccan keeper's leg was waiting.

Pelle should have equalised six minutes into the second half. Italy were using the wings better and from Defendi's perfect centre, the Lecce striker, six yards out, steered his effort wide of the far post. A minute later, from the other side, Defendi, stretching, volleyed over. 

The Africans hit back. Tiberkanine, 20 yards out, fired wide after good work from El Zhar and Iajour. The Ajax midfielder did better three minutes later but after tricking his way inside the box his fierce shot flashed wide as the drums beat more loudly.

The Azzurrini were pressing though and Pelle almost equalised on 66 minutes. Taking the ball on the chest, he shielded the ball expertly before swivelling and shooting in one movement.  With the ball heading for the top corner, Bourkadi pulled off another brilliant save.

He could do nothing eight minutes later though. Nocerino sent in a corner from the left and Michele Canini, rising unmarked, bulleted a header into the roof of the net (1:1, '74).

Pelle, shooting wide, and Galloppa, heading inches over, almost won it for Italy in full time.

After the lull, the stadium erupted three minutes into extra-time. An innocuous free kick flicked off the head of Francesco Battaglia and crept inside the near post to give Morocco the lead once more (2:1, '93).

Canini's sending off for a second yellow in the 96th minute made Italy's plight that much worse. Defendi, though, could have levelled twice either side, heading wide from Lorenzo Carotti's centre, then misfiring when slipped through. 

Just as it looked like the Italian players has spent all their energy, Lino Marzoratti crossed for Pelle to bury a downward header into the far corner (2:2, '112).

Now Morocco appeared exhausted but they almost grabbed what would have been an amazing winner with two minutes left of extra-time. Yassine Zouchou let fly from 25 yards but watched in horror as the spinning ball crashed off the inside of the post and to safety.  

After missing their first two penalties, Italy stood little chance while Morocco's men held firm, converting four of their five attempts. 

"I've seen a lot of matches in this championship and this has been one of the best," Berrettini told reporters. "We started off too slowly but in the second half there was only one team in it. Italy always seem to lose on penalties. I don't know why. I will miss these press conferences."