Morocco’s World Cup journey is over after they were condemned to a tight 1-0 loss to Portugal at the Luzhniki Stadium on Wednesday afternoon.
An early header from Cristiano Ronaldo was enough for Fernando Santos’ men to claim maximum points. The Moroccan team were full of energy and effort but they just did not have enough quality to find the net and keep themselves in the World Cup.
Rapid from Ronaldo
Just like in the match against Spain, Portugal started at a stunning pace and earned the advantage within four minutes through Ronaldo. Escaping his marker from a corner, the Real Madrid superstar thundered a header into the back of the net to take his tournament total to four goals from his opening two matches.
He then went extremely close again as he was played in by Raphaël Guerreiro after a barn-storming run. He spun well but sent his shot just wide of the post.
Morocco did have their opportunities during the opening stages of the game as Mehdi Benatia headed towards goal from a corner but Rui Patricio got down well.
Morocco react well
Following the goal, Morocco were surprisingly the better side. Nordin Amrabat troubled Guerreiro throughout the half and a challenge from the Portuguese defender in the penalty area saw appeals from the Moroccans. The referee was unmoved, however.
With half-time looming, Portugal almost netted their second through Gonçalo Guedes. The Paris Saint Germain latched onto an excellent pass from Ronaldo and powered a shot towards goal that was well-stopped by Munir in the Moroccan goal.
Morocco did have their own chance to score just before the break as Younès Belhanda flicked-on from a corner, only for the ball to just evade a touch from Benatia.
Patricio the star this time
Chances came and went throughout the second-half. Somewhat uncharacteristically, Ronaldo blazed over the bar before Belhanda forced a good save out of Rui Patricio.
The goalkeeper, who has recently signed for Wolverhampton Wanderers produced a stunning save to deny the forward again soon after. From a deep free-kick, the Galatasaray man nodded towards the bottom corner only for his shot to somehow be clawed away.
Morocco continued to look dangerous from set-pieces. Juventus man Benatia again reached a free-kick but sent his low header wide of the target. Hakim Ziyech showed excellent feet in the closing stages to create room for himself but his shot was deflected away thanks to a great block from Pepe. Benatia was also fortunate as the ball fell to him with only minutes left but he blazed the ball over the bar.
Despite their effort, Morocco were not able to find the net and as a result, are now eliminated.
Portugal really did get away with one on Wednesday afternoon. Despite their excellent start, the Portuguese champions severely under-performed. Santos’ men were not good enough, however most will be inclined to say that it is only the result that matters. They now head into their final group game with Iran on four points and top of Group B, albeit temporarily.
Elsewhere, Morocco showed plenty of heart and desire in their fight against elimination. They really did worry the European champions but in the end did not have the quality to tip the balance and topple their more-fancied opponents. Their next opponents will be Spain in their final group game.
Portugal: Patricio (7); Guerreiro (5), Fonte (6), Pepe (7), Cedric (6); B. Silva (6) (Martins (6), 59′), Carvalho (6), Moutinho (7) (Ad. Silva (N/A), 89′), Mario (6) (Fernandes (5), 70′); Ronaldo (7), Guedes (5).
Morocco: Munir (6); Achraf (6), Da Costa (6), Benatia (7), Dirar (6); Belhanda (7) (Carcela (6), 75′), El Ahmadi (7) (Fajr (N/A), 86′), Boussoufa (6); Amrabat (7), Boutaib (6) (El Kaabi (6), 69′), Ziyech (7).
Goals: Ronaldo (4′)
Referee: Mark Geiger
Yellow Cards: Benatia (40′), Ad. Silva (90+2′)
Red Cards: N/A
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