We were just writing about Cristiano Ronaldo making it to our Top 11 selection of the first round, and – bang! – here he is, again. Cristiano scored another one and made poker: It’s four goals in two games for him, and his first victim is done: Mehdi Benatia’s Morocco are eliminated from World Cup 2018.
It took just 240 seconds yesterday for the Champion from Funchal, Madeira to tear the North African side down, sending another message to his eternal rival Leo Messi, and earning a place among football legends. The one scored to Morocco was CR7’s 7th one in a World Cup, as well as the 85th with the jersey of Portugal.
Now, this might look like a small detail to somebody who has five Ballon d’Or in the cupboard of his living room, yet it’s an important achievement for those who love statistics and numbers: It’s the goal that allowed Ronaldo to surpass Hungarian legend Ferenc Puskas, and become the all-time best striker in any European national side, crushing a record that he held for 62 years.
With that being said, it would be easy to reduce Portugal to Cristiano Ronaldo only. Still, CR7 needs a supporting cast capable of support him, and suffer when necessary. Which is exactly what they did yesterday, when they had to face the pressure from a Moroccan eleven that had no other choice than win.
Morocco lined up an offensive 4-2-3-1 module built around Juventus’ Benatia, and mostly relying on Hakim Ziyach, an offensive midfielder who plays with Ajax, but is on the watchlist of Roma. But Coach Hervé Renard found himself facing the most classical of modules: A 4-4-2 that enabled the Portuguese to stay balanced, and at times recur to some good old Italian-style catenaccio.
Four minutes after kick-off, Joao Moutinho kicked from the corner spot, and found CR7’s header ready to anticipate Karim El Ahmadi and beat goalie Monir El Kajoui. The Moroccans were stunned, and risked capitulating again when a sharp low shot by Ronaldo again ended close the goal post. Benatia tried to shake his side off, and produced a header which was blocked by Rui Patricio. Then, before half time, went close to score deflecting a shot by his teammate Younes Belhanda – one of the best among the Lions of Atlas.
Early after the break, Jose Fonte went close to score the second for Portugal from a corner kick, then the match pace slowly decreased. Multiple fouls and interruptions made it less intense – the best piece of news being Ronaldo missing an easy conversion this time, and sending the ball on the stands.
But as the Portuguese started to run out of breath, Morocco gained confidence and went all-in – putting much pressure on Rui Patricio. Just like in the first half, the brand-new Wolverhampton goalkeeper did his job, first parrying back a violent shot by Belhanda, and then saving from Ziyach.
Morocco tried all they could, but ultimately ended up eliminated by a concrete Portugal, embellished by a sumptuous Cristiano Ronaldo. A Seleção das Quinas, on the other hand will need to put their chances of catching the 1st place in Group B at stake in their last match with Iran.
June 20, 2018 – World Cup Group Stage Pool B
SCORER: 4′ Cristiano Ronaldo
|PORTUGAL (4-4-2): Rui Patricio; Cedric, Pepe, Fonte, Guerreiro; Bernardo Silva (59’ Gelson Martins), William Carvalho, Moutinho (88’ Adrien Silva), Joao Mario (70’ Bruno Fernandes); Gonçalo Guedes, Cristiano Ronaldo (Beto, Anthony Lopes, Bruno Alves, Manuel Fernandes, André Silva, Ruben Dias, Ricardo, Mario Rui, Ricardo Quaresma) Coach: Fernando Santos.|
|MOROCCO (4-3-3): El Kajoui; Dirar, Benatia, Da Costa, Hakimi; Boussoufa, El Hamadi (86’ Harit), Belhanda (75’ Carcela); N. Amrabat, Boutaib (70’ El Kaabi), Ziyech (Bounou, Tagnaouti, Mendyl, Saiss, Fajir, En Nesyri, Bouhaddouz, S. Amrabat) Coach: Renard|
REFEREE: Geiger (U.S.A.)
NOTES: Attendance: 78011; Yellow Cards: Adrien Silva (P), Benatia (M); Extra Time: 1st Half 3′, 2nd Half 5′