They do call Portugal a one-man team and when that one man is Cristiano Ronaldo, a footballer so famous that even the Russians would not need to see his passport, you can understand why the World Cup finals has fallen under his spell.
Without Ronaldo, there would be none of the four goals registered by Portugal in this tournament including the winner against Morocco, which has taken his overall tally to 85, the most scored in international football by a European footballer. Without Ronaldo this would be a mediocre team, rather than a mediocre team with a first-class goalscorer who barely has to flash a glance at the camera to get himself voted the sponsors’ man of the match.
Yet Portugal are a bit more than that. They also encompass Pepe, Ronaldo’s erstwhile Real Madrid team-mate, who slumped to the ground in agony when Menat Benatia tapped him on the shoulder, and also launched himself like a bowling ball at the Morocco defenders who were trying to block the corner from which Portugal scored. Portugal, are also the goalkeeper Rui Patricio, on his way to Wolverhampton Wanderers, whose fine save in the second half from Younes Belhandia preserved his team’s lead.
But mostly Portugal are a team happy to defend whatever margin Ronaldo’s opportunism affords them, a side that will only relinquish a lead if their fingers are prised off one by one. Even their usually unrepentant coach Fernando Santos admitted this was an unambitious performance and affected dismay that his players should back off Morocco for most of the 86 minutes after Ronaldo’s goal - although that seems to be the usual gameplan.
From Morocco, the first team eliminated from Russia 2018, there was everything but a goal. Their white-shirted, lantern-jawed French coach Herve Renard, who watches from the touchline like a Monaco divorcee scrutinising the dance-floor, listed all the things he was proud of afterwards and lamented the performance of the American referee. Mark Geiger, he intimated, had failed to see Pepe launch himself at the two Moroccans before the goal.
There were some fine performances including Karim Elahmadi, once of Aston Villa, and also from Morocco’s most talented player, Hakim Ziyach. It was Belhandia, a No 10 whose header Patricio pushed round the post. Then there was Amrabat on the right who unwisely discarded his protective headwear following a concussion against Iran five days earlier. “He’s a warrior,” said Renard, with little thought given to the Fifa protocols.
It seems unlikely that Portugal will repeat their success at Euro 2016 playing like this and even Ronaldo, speaking on receipt of his second man of the match award, did not raise the prospect. “The most important thing was to win the game to get the three points,” he said. “We knew because if we lost we could have been out so we knew Morocco would try hard. They surprised us at the start with a lot of attacks, but I managed to get the goal.”
He is currently the tournament’s leading goalscorer with four, which is one fewer than Just Fontaine had after two games when he set the record for a single World Cup at 13 in 1958. If Ronaldo’s free-kicks continue to be as bad as they were on this occasion then Portugal’s No 7 will not be getting anywhere close. He blasted a couple straight at the wall and spent long periods of the game watching the action from a long way up the pitch.
His Real Madrid team-mate, the 19-year-old Achraf Hakimi, was another player on the front foot who Ronaldo got little out of when he switched over to the right wing. Santos said that his side had failed to take control of the match. “I have high quality players and there was no intensity in the game. We have player who have really good technical capability … but as happened against Spain, after 10-15 minutes my team couldn’t have the ball and couldn’t play. There was pressure but that is normal.”
They were saved by some poor finishing from Morocco, including the Roma defender Mehdi Benatia who had a couple of second half chances having been booked before the break for his remorseless pursuit of Ronaldo. The Morocco captain seemed unable to forgive himself for losing track of the No 7 for the goal. It came from Joao Moutinho’s corner, Pepe took out half the defence and Elahmadi just waved a boot at it while Ronaldo stuck his head in.
Renard’s options for changes in attack were limited. Once it became clear that there was no breakthrough likely from striker Khalid Bouatib, who plays for Yeni Malatyaspor in the Turkish Super Lig, he was replaced by Ayoub Elkaabi, the only outfield player in the squad who still plays club football in Morocco. “There’s a thing I am sure of,” Renard said, “that the Morocco people will be very proud of its team. Two and a half years ago we went on an adventure. We were 81st in the world, now we are 41st.
“We have qualified for a World Cup finals for the first time in 20 years and we have shown that we can play football. It’s true that we weren’t very effective in the end but I would like to have a good look at the corner from which Portugal scored.”
The Moroccan people will also surely wonder why a talented set of players could not manage a goal against either Iran, or a side which, despite being European champions managed less possession over the course of the game and two fewer attempts on goal. Portugal have Ronaldo’s goals and a cussedness in defending a lead, but they are a long way from being Russia 2018’s most daunting side.
- Moroccan centre-back Medhi Benatia had more shots than anyone else with four attempts. Three were off target and one on target.
- Bernardo Silva's pass completion was a woeful 59 per cent - more than 10 per cent worse than any other outfield player.
- Nordin Amrabat was fouled six times - more than any other player.
The usually fairly unrepentant Fernando Santos critical of his Portugal team, "I'm not happy with the performance. There was no intensity in the game [even though] we have good technical players'— Sam Wallace (@SamWallaceTel) June 20, 2018
Some full-time stats
Parking the bus
Our man Sam Wallace has sent his piece from the Luzhniki Stadium: 'How Portugal proved the masters of parking the bus and frustrated Morocco's creative midfield'
Here's an extract:
Portugal’s midfield partnership of Joao Moutinho and William Carvalho were pushed back to the edge of their own area for most of the game. Jose Fonte, 34, and Pepe, 35, Portugal’s two central defenders, were ever vigilant not to get sucked out of their deep positions chasing possession. What those two did extremely well was defend their six-yard area.
Morocco’s second defeat of Group B, and their elimination from the World Cup, was down to their failure to break through this stubborn Portugal defensive action as much as the small matter of facing the greatest goalscorer the modern game has seen.
#MAR coach sums up everything that is wrong about football’s attitude to concussion. On Amrabat: “He’s a warrior. He wanted to play.”— Ben Rumsby (@ben_rumsby) June 20, 2018
More on Amrabat
FIFPro have also had their say:
Amrabat was arguably the best player on the pitch today. But should he have been allowed to play?
Morocco is letting a player who was clearly knocked unconscious 4 days ago play right now in the #WorldCup2018. This is a #concussion nightmare scenario. Keep your fingers crossed for him. And never do this to your child. https://t.co/Zl2DsuMhmw— Chris Nowinski, Ph.D. (@ChrisNowinski1) June 20, 2018
Bye bye Morocco
Three games into Group B and it is time to say farewell to the Moroccans. The most valiant zero points from two matches.
Well, Portugal got away with it. How have Morocco not scored at this World Cup? Perhaps they were just a striker short. They totally dominated almost every area of the pitch today and yet they have lost 1-0 again.
"I just think they are lacking a No 9," says Matthew Upson.
Portugal 1 Morocco 0
90+4 mins - Portugal 1 Morocco 0
Morocco just cannot get through. Portugal are clinging on.
90+3 mins - Portugal 1 Morocco 0
Adrien Silva is booked for upending Amrabat, who has been fouled countless times today. One last chance to lump the ball into the box. The set piece falls for Benatia right on the penalty spot, but he lashes it over the bar. Why has every set piece fallen to the Morocco centre-back???
90 mins - Portugal 1 Morocco 0
Morocco are flinging all they can at Portugal. Ziyech cuts inside from the right and works some space to have a crack. The shot is fierce, but Pepe flings himself at it and deflects the ball over the bar, celebrating like he's scored the winner.
Five minutes of added time to be played.
88 mins - Portugal 1 Morocco 0
A final change for Portugal sees Leicester City's Adrien Silva come on for Moutinho.
87 mins - Portugal 1 Morocco 0
Morocco are doing everything they can to press now. It's all or nothing time. Is it to be a second dominant defeat?
86 mins - Portugal 1 Morocco 0
Ronaldo thought he was fouled in the box after that free-kick, by the way. The referee waved away his appeals and pleas for VAR to come into play. I'm not sure and will have to see a replay. The chance has gone now though.
84 mins - Portugal 1 Morocco 0
Almost a penalty to Portugal! Benatia lunges in rashly on Ronaldo in possession right on the edge of the box and the referee awards a free-kick, millimetres from the penalty area. Can Ronaldo finish things off from the set piece? No. Lashed straight at the wall.
81 mins - Portugal 1 Morocco 0
This has been the most one-sided match...
It’s going to be hard for FIFA NOT to select a #MAR player as man of the match - despite defeat. Who else otherwise? Rui Patricio?— Ben Rumsby (@ben_rumsby) June 20, 2018
79 mins - Portugal 1 Morocco 0
Back come the red shirts. Ziyech wins a corner, which he takes. No one meets in cleanly and the ball settles in the middle of the penalty area before it is finally walloped clear. Can they get this goal?
78 mins - Portugal 1 Morocco 0
Morocco win an umpteenth attacking free-kick about 30 yards out on near the right. The left-footed Ziyech will whip it in... and Benatia gets on the end of it, but his header rolls wide of the near post.
75 mins - Portugal 1 Morocco 0
Portugal look to be pressing a little higher now. Martin Keown remains unimpressed with their performance but says they won't lose any sleep over it. "They are masters" at this type of unconvincing victory, he says. Euro 2016 and all...
73 mins - Portugal 1 Morocco 0
A rare foray into the Morocco penalty area for Portugal, but the cross is headed clear. Is there a hint of greater urgency from the Portuguese contingent?
71 mins - Portugal 1 Morocco 0
The numbers are growing...
70 mins - Portugal 1 Morocco 0
One substitution apiece. Portugal: Fernandes for Mario. Morocco: El Kaabi for Boutaib.
68 mins - Portugal 1 Morocco 0
... up he steps to strike it with his left foot, but he cannot get enough dip on the ball and it rises over the bar. Someone put the ball in the net!
67 mins - Portugal 1 Morocco 0
Boussoufa draws a foul in a dangerous position, just to the right about 22 yards from goal. A great place for a free-kick and it looks like Ziyech will take...
66 mins - Portugal 1 Morocco 0
"It's like men against boys," says Martin Keown as Guerreiro is penalised for hauling down Amrabat. How he's not been booked for persistent fouls, I have no idea. Amrabat - who probably shouldn't even be playing after the concussion he suffered against Iran - has been brilliant today.
63 mins - Portugal 1 Morocco 0
I'm not quite sure how Morocco are yet to score at this World Cup.
61 mins - Portugal 1 Morocco 0
This is complete one-way action now. Yet another Morocco free-kick is launched into the penalty area, where it falls for Benatia. The centre-back really should score with plenty of space about 12 yards from goal, but he then fires it over the bar.
59 mins - Portugal 1 Morocco 0
A first change for Portugal sees Martins come on in place of the largely anonymous Bernardo Silva.
57 mins - Portugal 1 Morocco 0
What. A. Save. Belhanda rises highest to meet a Morocco free-kick from deep and seemingly divert the ball into the far corner, only for Patricio to fling himself at full stretch and turn the ball round the upright. A superb save. Portugal are under real pressure.
RUI GORDON BANKS— Adam Hurrey (@FootballCliches) June 20, 2018
55 mins - Portugal 1 Morocco 0
Here come Morocco again. Amrabat is provider, drawing two defenders towards him before laying off to Belhanda, who shoots from the edge of the box. He strikes it well but straight at Patricio.
"That bang on the head has turned Amrabat into a better player," says Martin Keown.
53 mins - Portugal 1 Morocco 0
Ziyach and Amrabat are continuing to cause trouble for the Portuguese defence. The theme from the first half has carried on...
52 mins - Portugal 1 Morocco 0
What a calamitous Portugal attack! Mario cuts the ball back to Bernardo Silva, whose shot is sliced so badly that it ends up behind him. Fortunately, the advancing Ronaldo is on hand to spank a follow-up up shot, but he leathers it a long way over the bar.
50 mins - Portugal 1 Morocco 0
Get me some of these. The assistant referees (linesmen) have some pretty sexy Russia 2018 boots on...
47 mins - Portugal 1 Morocco 0
No half-time changes for either time and Portugal have come quickest out of the blocks, with Guedes helping to win them a corner, but Fonte is penalised for holding his marker down.
We are back underway for the second half.
Just look how little Portugal have had the ball in the final third...
Check out a) how far back Portugal have been forced, and b) how high up the pitch Amrabat (No 16) has been...
Morocco were somewhat unlucky against Iran and that theme has only continued today. The north Africans dominated almost every facet of the game, yet it is Portugal who lead, courtesy of that man Ronaldo. The Portuguese have been very poor as a whole.
Portugal 1 Morocco 0
45+2 mins - Portugal 1 Morocco 0
I'm not convinced we're going to see Guerreiro in the second half. This time the Portugal left-back stupidly bundles Amrabat over by the corner flag to gift Morocco a free-kick. The delivery is good, Belhanda flicks it on at the front post and Benatia is inches away from turning it in, but he cannot reach it on the stretch. Very close.
45 mins - Portugal 1 Morocco 0
Three minutes of added time to be played.
44 mins - Portugal 1 Morocco 0
More smart play by those Moroccan men on the right side. First time, the ball is hacked clear. Second time, the ball is chested back to Patricio to bring an end to the attack.
"Guerreiro is making Amrabat look world class," says Martin Keown.
42 mins - Portugal 1 Morocco 0
Guedes probably should have done better with that chance. He had a lot of goal to aim at, but stuck it far too close to Mohamedi.
40 mins - Portugal 1 Morocco 0
A big chance for Portugal to double their lead! It's come from nothing as Morocco switch off slightly and allow Guedes to latch onto a little Ronaldo dink over the top. The Portugal frontman hits the ball on the run and Mohamedi palms away, moving to his left.
Benatia is then booked for a foul on Ronaldo soon after.
38 mins - Portugal 1 Morocco 0
A lovely overlap sees Hakimi drive high up the pitch for Morocco, but Boutaib cannot keep hold of the ball inside the Portugal penalty area. Back they come again though and Portugal twice have to hoof the ball clear.
36 mins - Portugal 1 Morocco 0
A few fouls coming in from both sides in the middle of the park. Still no yellow cards been shown.
32 mins - Portugal 1 Morocco 0
... Ronaldo marks out his run-up, pulls up his shorts, puffs his cheeks... and then whacks the ball into the Morocco wall.
31 mins - Portugal 1 Morocco 0
Morocco are again appealing for a penalty as Fonte crashes into Boutaib inside the penalty area, but the referee isn't interested. Portugal then go straight down the other end and win a free-kick 20 yards out from goal. Step up you know who...
30 mins - Portugal 1 Morocco 0
Ronaldo has barely got a look for the past 15mins or so. His side just cannot retain possession.
Morocco fans at Luzhniki respond to Ronaldo’s complaints by singing ‘Messi, Messi’. An old one but a good one— Sam Wallace (@SamWallaceTel) June 20, 2018
28 mins - Portugal 1 Morocco 0
Amrabat, playing on the right wing today (he played right-back against Iran) is tearing Guerreiro to pieces every time he gets the ball. He just about wriggles clear of the Portugal left-back, ventures into the Portugal penalty area and then tumbles over as Guerreiro fights back to apply some pressure. It looked as though both players were clinging on to their opposite man and Morocco's penalty appeals are waved away. Correct. No need for VAR to intervene.
25 mins - Portugal 1 Morocco 0
A bit of an ouchy for Ronaldo prompts the Portugal star to roll around in howls, while clutching his ankle (which was caught by Benatia). A foul is given, but no card shown, and Ronaldo's recovery is swift - almost like it didn't hurt that much in the first place.
23 mins - Portugal 1 Morocco 0
Ziyech, who has been making quite a name for himself at Ajax this season, is causing plenty of problems and this time tries his luck from range. Nothing too troubling for Patricio, but Ziyech is an attacking player of some talent.
22 mins - Portugal 1 Morocco 0
Portugal are really struggling to retain possession. Morocco are pressing so high in the opposition half and Portugal are frequently pushed further and further back. Bar the goal, you have to be impressed with how the Moroccans have played so far.
19 mins - Portugal 1 Morocco 0
Morocco are continuing to cause all sorts of problems. Amrabat and Dirar link up smartly down the right (where all the problems are coming from), before the Morocco right-back pulls the ball back dangerously into the penalty area, but the shot under pressure flies over the bar.
17 mins - Portugal 1 Morocco 0
BREAKING NEWS: Amrabat has just flung his skull cap towards the bench in disgust, revealing his gloriously shaved bonce.
16 mins - Portugal 1 Morocco 0
This game is very open in these early stages. Neither side is sitting back on the ball, which is making for plenty of action. Morocco are a goal behind but not playing poorly at all. They are pressing with vigour.
14 mins - Portugal 1 Morocco 0
The Moroccans are pushing hard at the moment, forcing Portugal deep inside their own half and winning another corner. It is only half-cleared before being delivered again for Da Costa to head well wide.
13 mins - Portugal 1 Morocco 0
A couple of nice Ronaldo stats:
85 - Cristiano Ronaldo has now scored more international goals than any other European player in the history of football (85 goals for Portugal). Historic. #POR#MAR#PORMAR#Ronaldo#WorldCuppic.twitter.com/I3wsEJTGlQ— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) June 20, 2018
2 - Cristiano Ronaldo has become the first Portugal player since José Torres in 1966 to score a goal with his right foot, left foot and head in a single World Cup tournament. Collection. #POR#MAR#PORMAR#Ronaldo#WorldCuppic.twitter.com/liZrUSyXmq— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) June 20, 2018
11 mins - Portugal 1 Morocco 0
Credit to Morocco, they haven't responded too badly to going behind and Amrabat is causing problems against an ageing (actually, very much aged) Portugal defence down the right. The north African side win a corner, which finds Da Costa unmarked in the middle of the box and his header is held on the line by Patricio diving low to his right.
9 mins - Portugal 1 Morocco 0
Here comes Ronaldo again. Guerreiro is allowed far, far too much space to bring the ball deep inside Morocco's half. Inside it comes to Ronaldo, who attempts to let fly from the edge of the penalty area but scuffs his shot wide of the post. He's in the mood.
6 mins - Portugal 1 Morocco 0
That was such poor marking and Ronaldo is just too good for that. Morocco's World Cup 2018 future is dangling by a thread.
And you don't even need me to tell you who scored it. The corner is whipped to the edge of the six-yard box where Ronaldo is woefully marked. The Real Madrid man flings himself powerfully at the ball and bullets a header past Mohamedi in goal to put Portugal ahead.
2 mins - Portugal 0 Morocco 0
Now it is Portugal's turn to venture upfield through Bernardo Silva on the right. He wins a first corner that ends with Guerreiro seeing a shot deflected over for a second corner...
2 mins - Portugal 0 Morocco 0
An early foray forward sees the skull-capped Amrabat deliver a cross from the right. Portugal cannot release the pressure and the ball is worked back into the penalty area from the left where Boutaib meets it and heads over the bar. A lively start from the Moroccans.
Morocco in red get this match underway. Portugal are in white. Morocco must win to keep their hopes of progressing alive.
The teams are out and the anthems are being sung. Almost ready.
Bang to the head
It had been assumed that Amrabat would not feature for Morocco today after he was forced off during the match with Iran when he bashed his head against the floor and suffered a concussion.
However, he has been selected and is wearing a Petr Cech-style skull cap in the warm-up. Unsurprisingly, his inclusion in the starting XI has prompted some raised eyebrows.
Nordin Amrabat starts. ����#MOR team doctor - Abderrazak Hifti: "I asked him five questions and he could only answer one, I saw clear symptoms of cerebral concussion.”— Ben Dinnery (@BenDinnery) June 20, 2018
FIFA concussion protocol. Return to competitive play - 6 days ���� pic.twitter.com/m4xi5Coore
Sun shining on the Luzhniki
JJ Bull has watched every minute of every match so far at this World Cup, and is thus perfectly placed to tell you who is good and who is rubbish.
He has produced a handy guide to all 32 teams, ranking them from worst to best after their opening encounters in Russia. READ IT BY CLICKING HERE.
The teams involved in this match are ranked second... and 25th.
I see some changes
Just the one change from the Portugal side that drew 3-3 with Spain: Joao Mario comes in for Bruno Fernandes on the left wing.
Morocco have tinkered a bit more after their shock defeat against Iran, making three changes to the side that started that game. Nabil Dirar and Manuel Da Costa come in, which sees Watford's Nordin Amrabat shifted further forward into a midfield role. Khalid Boutaib replaces Ayoub El Kaabi up top.
Here are your teams
The main man
Let's focus a little more on the undoubted star of today's show: CR7.
I don't know what you're talking about guys, I think the Ronaldo statue looks pretty good pic.twitter.com/JIUwQBuqUY— keewa (@keewa) March 29, 2017
Dashing, isn't he? His hat-trick against Spain was phenomenal and broke or matched a number of records:
- He joined Uwe Seeler, Pele and Miroslav Klose as only the fourth player to score in four separate World Cup tournaments.
- He became the first player in history to score in eight consecutive major tournaments (World Cup, European Championships, Copa America).
- At 33 years and 130 days, he became the oldest hat-trick scorer in World Cup history.
At an age when most players are considered either past it or on the decline, Ronaldo has shown no signs of slowing. Consider this:
- 2006, 2010, 2014 World Cups = 70 shots, 3 goals.
- 2018 World Cup = 4 shots, 3 goals.
Stop him if you can.
Ronaldo vs Morocco
The meticulously marked out run-up, the ludicrous power pose, the rolled up shorts to expose those bulging thighs, the puff of the cheeks and the fiery stare. Everything about Cristiano Ronaldo's 89th-minute hat-trick goal against Spain last Friday was pure theatre.
And wasn't it brilliant? A man who - love him or loathe him - lives for the biggest moments. A man who makes it All. About. Him. And then - THEN - he goes and delivers.
If anyone thought Portugal were a one-man team at this World Cup, last Friday's match only reinforced such an opinion. Their 3-3 draw against Spain showcased two things about Portugal's team: Ronaldo's total brilliance and the rest of team's (including your Bernardo Silvas, your Joao Moutinhos etc) bang averageness.
That draw means Portugal have emerged from their toughest match of Group B with a point and today they face a Morocco side who were stunned by Iran in their opener.
The Moroccans would have come to this World Cup knowing the scale of the task facing them in a group containing Spain and Portugal. The plan: do Iran over and then see if you can get a result against one of the big boys. So much for that.
The north African side dominated for much of their opening match, but paid the price for their profligacy in front of goal. Just as it looked like Iran would cling on for an admirable goalless draw, Morocco substitute Aziz Bouhaddouz stuck the ball in his own net in the 95th minute to gift the most unlikely of victories.
That has left Morocco in a whole heap of bother. Herve Renard knows his side now cannot afford to lose either of their remaining two games against the two heavyweights of the group.
These two sides have met once before at a World Cup and it was Morocco who came out on top in a 3-1 win. That was Portugal's only defeat against African opposition at any World Cup and the bookies have Ronaldo and chums as fairly heavy favourites to triumph today.