Portugal vs Morocco: Ronaldo breaks Moroccan hearts

Portugal took the lead in the 4th minute and held on to it to send Morocco out of WC

ronaldo-morocco-afp Portugal's forward Cristiano Ronaldo (left) hugs defender Pepe during the 2018 World Cup group B match against Morocco at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow | AFP

Cristiano Ronaldo was yet again the difference between the two sides as Portugal edged past Morocco with a solitary goal. Portugal took the lead in the 4th minute following a header by Ronaldo, but were on the back-foot for the remainder of the game as Morocco sent a barrage of attacks down both the flanks. It was a bitter loss for Morocco in the end, having lost both their games. The loss would sting for the African nation, whose first loss came off an own goal while the second loss came from a game in which they were clearly the better side. In the end, Morocco were left to rue their one mistake—leave Cristiano Ronaldo unattended in the box. When you have the world’s leading goal scorer playing against you, you can’t afford any mistakes and Morocco surely did pay for it.

Morocco started the match needing a draw at least, as a loss would effectively rule them out of the competition. They lost their first match against Iran. Ironically, the only time Morocco and Portugal met was at the 1986 World Cup, when Morocco beat them 3-0, which also marked Morocco’s first victory at the World Cup Finals.

Coach Fernando Santos fielded a 4-4-2 formation for Portugal, with Guedes and Ronaldo leading the attack. Uncharacteristically, it was Morocco who opened the attack. Amrabat tearing down the right flank before sending a cross down to Ziyach on the far side. He then lobbed it for Boutaib who sent it over the crossbar. Moroccan manager Renard’s worst fears came true in the 4th minute when an unmarked Ronaldo sent a header into the back of the net. Silva took a short corner to Moutinho, who sent it sailing to the edge of the six-yard area, where Ronaldo pounced on it. For a person who had 84 international goals to his name before this, it was surprising that the Moroccans did not take him seriously. Ronaldo had scored three goals from 70 shots in the previous three World Cups. At the 2018 edition, he had scored four from five shots. His hat-trick in the previous game had already made him the oldest player to score a hat-trick at the World Cup Finals. The goal also made him the leading European international goal scorer in the world. Ronaldo had yet another chance in the 9th minute, from the right-hand side of the box, but shot it wide off the post.

Morocco shook off their blues as they pressed forward. In the 11th minute, they almost scored an equaliser when Da Costa headed Ziyech’s corner goal-wards but Rui Patricio smothered it. Morocco continued to press, with Amrabat and Dirar leading the attack, but his short pass cleared from the six-yard area by Portugal. Morocco had a penalty appeal turned down in the 27th minute when Amrabat was brought down by Guerrerio, but was turned down by the referee. Portugal won a free-kick just outside the box in the 29th minute, but Ronaldo shot straight at the wall. It was all Morocco in the attack in the first half. Portugal’s only real chance came in the 40th minute when Ronaldo lobbed a pass through to Guedes, whose lifted shot was saved by Moroccan goalkeeper Mohamedi. Portugal went into the break with the relief that they had manage to contain Morocco’s barrage of attacks.

The second half started with much promise, with Morocco needing at least a draw to try and stay in the competition. Morocco, came back with the same script, pressing Portugal especially down the right flank. Amrabat, who had caused enough worry for Portugal throughout the first half, drew in two defenders before playing Belhanda on the edge of the box. He blasted a shot on goal, but it was well caught by Rui Patricio. Morocco nearly equalised in the 57th minute when Belhanda headed towards goal on the left, but a remarkable save from a diving Rui Patricio denied Morocco the much needed equaliser. Morocco were pressing the way Mexico played against Germany, but the only difference was that they were failing to convert in front of goal. Another set piece from Morocco in the 60th minute caused problems for Portugal, but Benatia snatched at his shot to send it way over the crossbar.

Morocco continued to play aggressive in attack, but were unable to make any substantial impact in the final third. Morocco came closest to an equaliser in the 90th minute when Amrabat slipped in Ziyach, who dribbled past two defenders to take a left-footed shot, but it was blocked for a corner. With the loss, Morocco became the first team to be knocked out of the tournament. A harsh blow for a team that played far superior to what the score-line suggested. Full credit to Ronaldo for his goal. He may have been unmarked, but he still had to put his head on the line and that made all the difference in the end.