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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Barcelona star Philippe Coutinho can do more to help Neymar in Brazil v Costa Rica key match-ups

Chris Bailey 20/06/2018
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Brazil’s Samba beat was out of rhythm in their opening draw against Switzerland – cranking up that pressure just a touch more for a side desperate to erase memories of a World Cup horror show in their own house four years ago.

Neymar is still searching for fitness and form ahead of their clash with Group E underdogs Costa Rica in St Petersburg (Friday, 16:00).

As Los Ticos showed during their narrow defeat against Serbia, the spirit that saw them reach the quarter-finals in 2014 is still very much alive.

Below, we select three key match-ups to take a particular interest in on Friday.

PHILIPPE COUTINHO v BRYAN RUIZ

It was a sight that the Kop has seen many times and the Nou Camp is growing accustomed to. Philippe Coutinho, lurking on the left-hand apex of the box and laughing at the laws of physics with a swing of that right boot.

But as glorious as that strike was, don’t let it fool you into thinking that the Barcelona playmaker was entirely blameless for a team performance lacking punch.

Switzerland’s geometrical mastery in defence made things exceedingly difficult for the tournament favourites and what Costa Rica lack in skill, they’ll make up for in dogged defence.

With Neymar hobbled and central midfield otherwise lacking in imagination, the onus weighs heavily on the 26-year-old – who made nearly double the passes (77) of any other member of Brazil’s front six.

Bryan Ruiz will be lucky to receive a sniff of the ball for large swathes of the game though, much like Coutinho, he is the go-to man for Costa Rica in the final third.

An attacking midfielder who is a proclivity to drift in from the right and will look to occupy the space that the ultra-attacking Marcelo vacates when the Central Americans find a way to counter-attack.

Pace, at 32 years of age, is not Ruiz’s motif anymore but he is both a fine dribbler and passer and he will look to the impressive Switzerland duo of Xherdan Shaqiri and Blerim Dzemaili for inspiration on how to probe a Brazilian backline that can quite clearly be got at.

NEYMAR v MARCO URENA

Think of Neymar against Switzerland and an image of him being stricken on the floor, whether through a rough challenge or pure frustration, immediately comes to mind.

The Selecao’s main man was widely panned for his performance but it is easy to forget that was his first start since February and he was the clear lightning rod for Swiss aggression.

Indeed, take his name away from the equation – while factoring in that he was half-fit at best – and you’ll find he was still the man your eyes were drawn to time and again. Dodgy haircut or not.

According to whoscored.com, Neymar made four key passes from just 37 attempts. In contrast, Coutinho mustered just one from 77.

Neymar simply needs more protection and his team-mates can give that to him by being far more productive themselves.

Marco Urena, on the other hand, is not going to melt the minds of defenders with tricks or flicks, but he shows a willingness for the dirty work that Neymar disdains. Just because that lacks glamour doesn’t decrease its effectiveness.

The 28-year-old never stopped running Serbia down in a match the Costa Ricans were a trifle unlucky to lose and he has enough pace for centre-backs to worry about his presence in behind.

His biggest weakness? Well, scoring goals. He has yet to score for MLS expansion side Los Angeles FC and though his international record is hardly horrific – 15 goals from 60 caps – the step up in competition does him no favours.

MIRANDA v GIANCARLO GONZALEZ

Thiago Silva is the bigger name but it’s clear that Miranda is the leader of this Brazilian defence. Sadly the Internazionale defender didn’t lead by example at the crucial juncture against Switzerland.

Miranda lost goal-scorer Steven Zuber from the corner and despite Brazil’s insistence that Miranda was pushed, he was caught in a land where no man should be.

The amount of chances that Costa Rica get will likely be counted on one hand but a single brain freeze is all it would take.

Giancarlo Gonzalez was the standout at the heart of the Ticos’ back five against Serbia but where Aleksandar Mitrovic and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic were physical, the trickiness of Brazil is a completely different prospect.

Indeed, the Canarinha won’t be pelting aerial balls in the box and though he plys his domestic trade in Europe for Serie A side Bologna, there won’t be much to draw upon from the slower-paced Italian game.

Gonzalez has never been the most sure-footed tackler and and received two red cards for Bologna last season. It’s all a little ominous.

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Record-breaker Cristiano Ronaldo knocks Morocco out of the World Cup with Portugal winner

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.

His 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 consigning them to an undeserving defeat.

With Iran and Spain to play later this evening and both sides guaranteed to at least move onto four points in Group B, pointless Morocco are now out.

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