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Record-breaker Cristiano Ronaldo earns Portugal win as Morocco’s FIFA World Cup hopes end

Cristiano Ronaldo headed Portugal to a 1-0 win over Morocco in their FIFA World Cup Group B match on Wednesday to put them in the driving seat for a spot in the next round and seal the North Africans’ early exit.

football Updated: Jun 20, 2018 19:58 IST
Bhargab Sarmah
Bhargab Sarmah
Hindustan Times, Moscow
FIFA World Cup 2018,Cristiano Ronaldo,Portugal vs Morocco
Cristiano Ronaldo’s strike in the fourth minute helped Portugal register a 1-0 win over Morocco in their FIFA World Cup Group B match on Wednesday. (AFP)

Cristiano Ronaldo is one of the very few footballers on this planet who can evoke the most extreme of emotions among fans and that his ability to do so was visible when he led his side to a 1-0 win over Morocco in Portugal’s second game at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, putting the Iberian side on the brink of the Round of 16 and the African team out of the reckoning for a place in the next phase. (HIGHLIGHTS)

Morocco had begun the game brightly as Khalid Boutaib found himself at the end of a scoring opportunity after Hakim Ziyech found him with a cross from the left flank in the second minute of the game.

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Boutaib’s header, however, was well over the target. Portugal responded immediately and earned two back-to-back corners, the first one from a deflected Bernardo Silva cross and the second from a Raphael Guerrero shot that was headed away.

And then in the fourth minute, Ronaldo rose to the occasion as he headed in from close range to give his side the lead. Silva had taken a short corner and passed the ball to Joao Moutinho, whose cross found Ronaldo.

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Portugal fans were in delirium and there was no mistaking who their favourite man on the pitch was as every touch of Ronaldo was met with cheers from the stands.

His commitment to his side was never in doubt. When Portugal conceded a corner in the 20th minute, Ronaldo was on hand to defend the set-piece and promptly headed away the incoming ball.

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At the other end of the ground, Morocco fans weren’t as impressed by Ronaldo’s exploits as their Portuguese counterparts. When the Real Madrid star went down from a challenge by Medhi Benatia, perhaps a bit theatrically, chants of ‘Messi! Messi!’ reverberated across the ground.

Seven minutes later, a free kick from Ronaldo failed to clear the Moroccan wall and the Messi chants briefly resumed again.

Portugal fans responded with claps accompanying coordinated screams of ‘Siii’ on the lines of Ronaldo’s scream after his 2014 Ballon d’Or-winning speech.

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Morocco became more of a threat as the game progressed. Hakim Ziyech, who roamed across the right flank and down the middle, created a few problems for the Portuguese defence but the end product was missing from his side.

Portugal had two chances early on in the second half. Jose Fonte had an opportunity to head in three minutes into the half but put his effort wide.

Three more minutes down the line, Ronaldo had a shooting opportunity from the edge of the box but skied his attempt.

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Morocco dominated proceedings for the next few minutes. They came close to equalising in the 57th minute when Ziyech’s pinpoint delivery from a free kick from the right flank was met with an equally good header by Younes Belhanda. Portugal custodian Rui Patricio, however, produced a stunning diving save to maintain his side’s lead.

At the hour mark, Benatia had a chance to score after a ball fell kindly to him from a Morocco free kick. His effort was well over the mark.

Neither side threatened again until the dying minutes. Portugal were dangerously sitting deep, inviting the Morocco attack. In the 90th minute, Ziyech cut in from the right flank, danced his way past two Portuguese defenders before unleashing a powerful shot. Pepe, however, flung his body on the line just in time to deflect it for a corner.

Two minutes into stoppage time, they had yet another chance to score when the ball fell to Benatia following a free kick. Yet again, the Juventus defender skied his effort as Portugal held on for the win.

As the giant screen displayed Ronaldo’s name as the ‘Man of the Match’ at the end of the game, loud boos rang out from the Morocco end.

First Published: Jun 20, 2018 19:49 IST