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Ronaldo earns Portugal win as Morocco bow out

  • Published at 11:50 pm June 20th, 2018
  • Last updated at 11:56 pm June 20th, 2018
Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo scores during their World Cup Group B match against Morocco at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow Wednesday Reuters

The in-form Cristiano Ronaldo carried on his good form for Portugal as the Euro champion beat a well-organised Morocco 1-0 in their 2018 Fifa World Cup Group B match at a jam-packed Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow Wednesday, thanks to their captain’s all-important goal early in the first half.

This is Ronaldo’s 85th international goal, a new record for an European player. Ronaldo surpassed Hungarian legend Ferenc Puskas and now finds himself second in the all-time highest goal-scorers’ list behind Iran’s Ali Daei, who has 109 goals.

Although Ronaldo failed to replicate his Spain performance, with several missed passes and fumbles, he still registered his fourth goal of this tournament, the highest ahead of Russian Denis Cheryshev and Spaniard Diego Costa’s three.

The result saw Morocco crash out of the tournament, alongside Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Morocco’s 3-1 win over Portugal in the 1986 World Cup seems like all but a distant memory now.

Morocco had a lot of opportunities to bring parity but failed repeatedly. Their French manager Herve Renard set up a 4-3-3 formation that made them solid defensively. However, a lapse in concentration and failing to mark Ronaldo in a decisive moment proved to be their undoing.

Ronaldo might have given the Portuguese fans a lot to cheer about following his mesmerising hat-trick against the Spaniards, but the majority of the 78, 011 spectators at the Luzhniki were Moroccans.

Thousands of Morocco fans wearing deep red jerseys cheered loudly throughout the match and it seemed Portugal were very much the visiting side in Moscow.

“In this Moscow stadium, we felt like we were playing in Casablanca, which helped us a great deal,” Renard praised the crowd during the post-match press conference.

Morocco made a vibrant start but Ronaldo jolted them early in the game when he headed home a Joao Moutinho cross after a short corner from the right flank by Bernardo Silva.

After that, every time Ronaldo got the ball, the crowd booed him loudly. There were even moments the crowd chanted “Messi, Messi” when Ronaldo had the ball. The five-time Ballon d’Or winner though had the final laugh as Portugal maintained their solo lead right till the end of the tie.

“I’m happy I scored the goal but the most important thing is that we won the game…We have to think match by match in order to progress,” said Ronaldo after the match.

On paper and in the field, Morocco were the better team, not only in terms of possession but also in every other aspect. With that said, the European champion edged the Atlas Lions in the scoreline, which is all that counts at the end.

Several chances were created by Morocco as they were backed by their vociferous fans. The Portuguese defence though was resolute in adversity.

Midfielder Younes Belhanda came closest to equalising for Morocco, playing in their first World Cup since 1998. But his header was kept out superbly by Portuguese goalkeeper Rui Patricio.

Throughout the game, Morocco got chances to make it all square. Even in the second minute of additional time, a free-kick caused Portugal plenty of problems in the d-box. But Juventus defender Medhi Benatia’s shot failed to find the target.

“We qualified for a World Cup after 20 years and we’ve showed that we can play football," said Renard before adding, "We do play football.”

Questions were raised several times against USA referee Mark Geiger and some of his decisions and Morocco can certainly count themselves unlucky as a few verdicts went against them.

However, when queried to give their opinions on the referee, both the coaches refrained from making any comment.

Portugal manager Fernando Santos, boasting a degree in electrical and telecommunications engineering, was criticised in many quarters for his charges’ below-par display while several journalists felt Morocco were unlucky to taste defeat.

“It’s a World Cup. (Portugal are) a strong team, as were Morocco, but we have to grow. We did well defensively, and we played well, but we need more than that. We have to change and earn more possession,” said Santos.

Portugal now have four points from two matches while Morocco have none from the same number of games.

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