Morocco was probably the better team when they took on Portugal Wednesday morning, but that doesn’t account for the difference maker that is Cristiano Ronaldo.
Portugal took a lead against their Group B opponents in the fourth minute when Ronaldo had some brilliant off-ball movement to free himself for a brave header on a corner, and then held on for 86 minutes in a tense affair, eventually locking up a 1-0 win.
For Portugal, it was a very different performance than their one against Spain, a free-flowing goal fest that ended 3-3. The one constant through both matches was the brilliance of Ronaldo, who has now scored all four goals for his country this World Cup.
The goal came early, off a brilliant run from Ronaldo to get open on a corner kick.
#MundialTelemundo Así lo narró @AndresCantorGOL ¿Quién más sino @Cristiano ? Gran remate de cabeza para adelantar a #POR en el marcador frente a #MAR pic.twitter.com/u46VLJNjUq— Telemundo Deportes (@TelemundoSports) June 20, 2018
After that, it was mostly Morocco. The midfield of Hakim Ziyech, Belhana, and Amrabat often looked in control of the match, and while Portugal had spots of possession, and Ronaldo always looked dangerous, it was the Moroccans who looked more likely to score. There were one or two shouts for penalty kicks from Morocco as well in the first half, as Portugal defenders looked like they might have gotten away with a shove or two in the box.
For Morocco, and sorry to use a bad soccer cliche here, it just seemed like they were lacking that bit of attacking prowess up front. Ziyech and Amrabat especially looked great creating a ton of opportunity, but never being able to link it with a striker who could put the ball in the net.
Ziyech had an incredible chance in the 90th minute when he cut inside from the right side, had the ball in on his left foot in the box, and then had a shot deflected. Benatia two times had the ball fall to his left foot in the box, unmarked, and both times he put the ball into the 27th row.
So ends Morocco’s World Cup run, and it’s hard not to feel for a team that was the better side in both games.
For Portugal, you have to feel this is all going according to plan. They basically constructed their team to be a bunch of guys who work hard and then Ronaldo, which is actually a pretty good way of constructing a soccer team in a tournament. You don’t need to be brilliant for six months ... you need to get results in seven games. This team is built to get results, and so far they have.
Will it be enough to make a deep run? We’ll see. But with Ronaldo in this form, I wouldn’t bet against them.