Appreciate the relentless mindset of Cristiano Ronaldo after Portugal's 1-0 win over Morocco

Alex Rea 20/06/2018
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Morocco were the first team to fall out of the World Cup after a Cristiano Ronaldo bullet header consigned them to a second straight 1-0 defeat.

The Portugal superstar moved ahead of Hungarian great Ferenc Puskas to become the highest scoring European in international football with his 85th goal in 152 appearances.

The 33-year-old’s brave header from a fourth-minute corner was enough to secure all three points, although, the Euro 2016 champions were fortunate to survive a Moroccan onslaught with their profligacy either side of the half condemning them to an undeserving defeat.

Here, we examine some of the key takeaways from the clash.

RELENTLESS RONALDO

Portugal v Morocco: Group B - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia

Portugal keep winning, Cristiano Ronaldo continues to score – see the trend here?

Put aside the constant and, let’s face it, tedious debate surrounding the entwined legacy of both Ronaldo and his great rival Lionel Messi for a moment, and just respect the Portuguese’s goalscoring greatness.

His relentless pursuit of breaking every record on the book should be appreciated in equal light to any dazzling dribble or sumptuous strike.

Ronaldo plays every game, every minute and every second with a mission in mind and he always delivers.

His fourth-minute header was balletic and brutal as Morocco centre-back Manuel da Costa was intricately sliced away from his tight marking by a clever dart before Ronaldo finished with precision.

In truth, he could have added to his tally of four goals in two World Cup 2018 games. A swift swivel moments later opened up space on the left but he dragged the finish just wide.

Another opportunity arrived after the break when he spanked a shot from outside the box well over the bar and there were was to be no Spain set-piece repeat as two efforts crashed against the wall.

But within that lies the beauty of Ronaldo. He will always persist to create more, to shoot more and inevitably score more. There is no deviation away from that driven mindset, regardless of the pressure, occasion or minute.

Portugal, outside of goalkeeper Rui Patricio, were poor. The midfield went missing  and was dreadfully exposed. The Atlas Lions pounced to every loose ball and dispossessed them with ease.

It was ugly at times, but just like Real Madrid they produced the result which mattered most, and both do so because they have Ronaldo.

ZEAL OF ZIYECH

Portugal v Morocco: Group B - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia

Messi and Ronaldo correctly dominated the pre-tournament build-up for the casual audience but it’s a real disservice to ignore the undisputed quality which lies with some of the smaller nations.

Hakim Ziyech is one of those talents.

The 25-year-old arrived in Russia fresh from the best season of his career with Ajax, notching an Eredivisie high of 15 assists and plundering a further nine goals.

He’s developed a reputation as one of the most electric forwards in Dutch football and that Ziyech wears the maroon of the Morocco and not Oranje is cause of great frustration for his country of birth.

Not for the neutral, however, with Ziyech able to display his precocious ability against Portugal.

While he bubbled in the disappointing defeat to Iran, it was against a wide-open Seleccao das Quinas, the attacker was brought to the boil, leaving onlookers frothing with a delightful display of courage and flair.

He stepped up for Morocco, was central to their enterprising play – the North Africans had more touches in Portugal’s half than Spain – and showed steel to his cutting-edge play.

There was care in his passing, authority in his dribbles through the middle while his delivery from set-pieces was wicked.

Morocco’s best chance of an equaliser arrived from one of his whipped in left-footed free-kicks as Younes Belhanda connected with a good header which Patricio just about pawed away.

He, too, forced an expert block from Pepe late on after a slick drive into the box. His 87 touches, 14 crosses and four key passes were a game high. Only Ronaldo had more shots and Nordin Amrabat more dribbles.

It’s a shame Morocco and their star man have departed Russia early.

PORTUGAL BLEND IS OFF

FBL-WC-2018-MATCH19-POR-MAR

Goncalo Guedes was chosen to partner Ronaldo once more despite the drop off from his Valencia performances against Spain and again he struggled.

The 21-year-old was not alone, though.

Bernardo Silva, who at least operated in his familiar position on the right as opposed to Guedes switching centrally having been used on the left last season, was dreadful and deservedly hooked on the hour mark.

Joao Mario replaced Bruno Fernandes on the opposite side in the XI but was just as ineffectual. Fernando Santos is fortunate to have Ronaldo in his ranks but the Portuguese boss has to solve the ineptitude of those around the captain.

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Neymar back on track for Brazil after ankle injury scare in training

David Cooper 20/06/2018
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Fit and firing: Neymar has made a swift recovery.

Neymar was back in Brazil training on Wednesday, 24 hours after limping out of Tuesday’s session in Sochi with an ankle problem.

The Paris Saint-Germain hero was clutching his right ankle, sparking fears that he had aggravated another injury just weeks after recovering from a fractured foot.

However, the good news for the Samba outfit is that their talisman is fit and ready for action, with Brazil taking on Costa Rica in Group F on Friday in St Petersburg (16:00).

The record five-time World Cup winners were held by Switzerland, 1-1, in their opening match.

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Three reasons why Cristiano Ronaldo is already a shoo-in for the World Cup Golden Boot

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Cristiano Ronaldo is clearly stuck in Champions League mode and that bodes well for Portugal’s World Cup campaign.

After a sensational hat-trick against Spain that included a dramatic late equaliser to make it 3-3 with a spectacular free-kick, the Real Madrid star took less than four minutes to score against Morocco.

From a short corner, Ronaldo’s clever dummy run left Manuel da Costa for dead before he powered home Joao Moutinho’s delicious cross for the only goal of the game.

He leads the goal-scoring charts with four strikes to his name and even though it’s still very early in the competition, here’s why he’s already the overwhelming favourite to win the prestigious Golden Boot.

HISTORY IS ON HIS SIDE

Just Fontaine holds the record for most goals scored at a World Cup when he bagged 13 in Sweden in 1958. However, it’s unlikely that Ronaldo would have to hit those heights to finish as the top scorer in Russia.

Only one Golden Boot winner has managed more than six goals since 1974. The Brazilian Ronaldo scored eight goals when he led his side to World Cup glory in 2002.

Meanwhile, four players ended up as top scorers with five each at the 2010 edition. Ronaldo is already just one shy of that mark.

King in front of goal: The Brazilian Ronaldo.

PORTUGAL GIVE HIM EVERY CHANCE

When you have the likes of Ronaldo or Lionel Messi in your team, it’s a no-brainer to set them up at every opportunity to get the best out of them. Argentina are certainly on board with that concept as Jorge Sampaoli has compromised his traditional tactics to have Messi operate as the central figure.

However, in trying to get the most out of the Barcelona star, they may have given him too much to do. Portugal on the other hand have hit the sweet spot with Ronaldo. He’s hardly an isolated figure, thrown up front and expected to come alive only in and around the penalty area.

No, the deployment of Goncalo Guedes and the clever interplay on and off the ball between the two forwards has ensured that Ronaldo isn’t a peripheral figure. He’s absolved of defensive responsibility as well, instead focusing on taking up positions to be integral on the counter-attack. Everything is geared towards giving Ronaldo every opportunity to be as big a goal threat as he can.

UPCOMING GAMES

Iran pulled off an upset when they beat Morocco 1-0 in the first round of fixtures and will be fighting for one of the top two spots in the group when they face Portugal in their final group game.

The Asian outfit will be underdogs in that fixture though as the 33 places between the two sides in the FIFA rankings would suggest. Iran should come into the game needing a result while opportunities are bound to come Ronaldo’s way. Given the form he finds himself in at the moment, who wouldn’t back him to score?

Finally, with the way Group A is shaping up, Fernando Santos’ side are likely to face Russia in the Round of 16 should they manage to win their own group.

While the hosts have enjoyed a great start to the tournament, they haven’t really been tested yet. An aging back-line should give Ronaldo every chance to add to his tally.

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