Morocco are out of Russia 2018 World Cup, no thanks to Cristiano Ronaldo’s early goal which earned Portugal a 1-0 win.
African teams have conceded most of their goals from set pieces, and the dead ball demon caught up with Morocco, who had conceded through an own goal against Iran, another 1-0 defeat.
Just like he did against Spain, Ronaldo opened the scoring with a brave header in the midst of Moroccan boots. The tournament’s highest goal scorer smartly evaded his marker to attack Moutinho’s cross from a short corner with a diving header like a man possessed. The goal took him to 85 international goals to become Europe’s all-time highest international goalscorer.
Ronaldo could have doubled the lead in the ninth minute for the European Champions, but his shot went just wide of the far post.
Morocco recovered from the setback, got back in the game and had a faint penalty appeal turned down minutes before the half-hour mark. Much to the consternation of the players and their French coach, Herve Renard who got a stern warning from USA referee, Mark Geiger, Nordin Amrabaat was adjudged to have equally pulled Guerrero’s shirt, inflicting fingernail cuts in the process, same way the Portuguese defender was pulling his shorts before Morocco attacking midfielder hit the deck.
Morocco enjoyed more possession late in the half but Portugal almost doubled their lead five minutes before the break, Ronaldo’s deft flick put Goncalo Guedes through but his shot was saved by Munir’s outstretched hand. The Desert stars had the last chance of the half, Younnes Belhanda heading wide from a free kick earned by the impressive Amrabaat.
Ronaldo showed he was only human when he blazed over Portugal’s first opportunity of the second half. Joao Mario’s cut back found Guedes, and his miskicked shot rolled into Ronaldo’s path but the Real Madrid forward blasted wide.
That was the cue for Morocco who fashioned two shots on target in two minutes. First Mbark Boussafa’s shot was well held by Rui Patricio, and the Portugal keeper produced a better save from Boutaib’s header.
Captain Mahdi Benatia, however, missed Morocco’s best chance of the match on the hour when he controlled a deep free-kick inside the penalty area, stepped away from Jose Fonte, but the Juventus defender’s shot was always rising, much to the anguish of their vociferous fans.
Portugal were being pinned back by the Atlas Lions who enjoyed more possession and shots, and in Amrabaat, a player who had the better of Guerrero all day and fashioned out dangerous opportunities for his teammates who could not capitalise.
However, Portugal could have earned a penalty six minutes to the end when he was brought down by Amrabaat when he tried to latch on to his blocked free kick, but the referee waved play on.
Despite enjoying more touches inside Portugal’s penalty area than Spain managed, Morocco could not find a way past the Pepe-marshaled backline. The former Real Madrid defender had his comical moment in added time, going down under Benatia’s touch but the referee was rightly unmoved.
There was still one more chance for Morocco from a free kick which fell kindly to Benatia who flashed a shot high from the penalty spot.
Portugal ran down the clock to win by Ronaldo’s solitary early goal, which means the North Africans crash out of the tournament. (The Cable)