Wednesday 18 July 2018

Ronaldo works his magic but Portugal fail to impress

Portugal 1 Morocco 0

Portugal's Cedric Soares in action. Photo: Reuters
Portugal's Cedric Soares in action. Photo: Reuters

Sam Wallace

They do call Portugal a one-man team and when that one man is Cristiano Ronaldo you can understand why the World Cup has fallen under his spell.

Without Ronaldo, there would be none of the four goals registered by Portugal in this tournament - including the winner yesterday - which has taken his overall tally to 85, the most scored in international football by a European.

Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo shoots at goal from a free kick. Photo: Reuters
Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo shoots at goal from a free kick. Photo: Reuters

Without Ronaldo, this would be a mediocre team, rather than a mediocre team with a first-class goalscorer who barely has to flash a glance at the camera to get himself voted the sponsors' man of the match.

Yet Portugal are a bit more than that. They also encompass Pepe, Ronaldo's erstwhile Real Madrid team-mate, who slumped to the ground in agony when Mehdi Benatia tapped him on the shoulder, and launched himself like a bowling ball at the Morocco defenders who were trying to block the corner from which Portugal scored. Portugal also have goalkeeper Rui Patricio, on his way to Wolverhampton Wanderers, whose fine save in the second half from Younes Belhanda preserved the lead.

But, mostly, Portugal are a team happy to defend whatever margin Ronaldo's opportunism affords them.

Even their usually unrepentant coach Fernando Santos admitted this was an unambitious performance and effected dismay that his players should back off Morocco for most of the 86 minutes after Ronaldo's goal.

Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates scoring. Photo: Reuters
Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates scoring. Photo: Reuters

From Morocco, the first team eliminated from Russia 2018, there was everything but a goal.

Their white-shirted, lantern-jawed French coach Herve Renard listed all the things he was proud of and lamented the performance of the American referee Mark Geiger, who, he intimated, had failed to see Pepe launch himself at the two Moroccans before the goal.

Morocco's Noureddine Amrabat said Pepe had claimed Geiger asked him for Ronaldo's shirt at half-time.

There were some fine performances, including from Karim El Ahmadi, once of Aston Villa, and also from Morocco's most talented player, Hakim Ziyech. It was Younes Belhanda, a No 10, whose header Patricio pushed round a post.

Morocco's Karim El Ahmadi shoots ahead of Portugal's Goncalo Guedes. Photo: Reuters
Morocco's Karim El Ahmadi shoots ahead of Portugal's Goncalo Guedes. Photo: Reuters

Then there was Amrabat on the right, who unwisely discarded his protective headwear following a concussion against Iran five days earlier.

It seems unlikely Portugal will repeat their success at Euro 2016 playing like this and even Ronaldo, speaking on receipt of his second man-of-the-match award, did not raise the prospect.

Portugal have Ronaldo's goals and a cussedness in defending a lead, but they are a long way from being Russia 2018's most daunting side.

© Daily Telegraph, London

Morocco's Karim El Ahmadi in action. Photo: Reuters
Morocco's Karim El Ahmadi in action. Photo: Reuters

Telegraph.co.uk

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