Liverpool target Hakim Ziyech is superb in defeat in our Morocco ratings after Portugal clash

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Superstar Cristiano Ronaldo became Europe’s record international goalscorer when his early bullet header for Portugal earned a trying 1-0 win against Morocco, who became the first nation eliminated from World Cup 2018.

Ronaldo, 33, rose highest in the fourth minute to nod home Monaco midfielder Joao Moutinho’s inviting centre at Luzhniki Stadium. This was both a leading fourth goal in Russia and 85th effort for his nation in 152 matches – bettering Ferenc Puskas’ tally set for Hungary from 1945-56.

Morocco responded in determined fashion, but could not convert a succession of presentable chances.

Here are our Morocco player ratings:

MOROCCO (4-2-3-1)

Munir Mohamedi – 7: Showed great athleticism to deny Paris Saint-Germain-owned forward Goncalo Guedes in second-half. Otherwise, had a surprisingly quiet afternoon.

Nabil Dirar – 6: Curbed his attacking instincts to allow adventurous right winger Nordin Amrabat to bomb on with impunity. Had the better of Internazionale’s Joao Mario.

Mehdi Benatia – 5: Another erratic performance from the Juventus centre-back. Lucky not to receive a second yellow card for fouling Ronaldo and wasted plenty of chances.

Manuel da Costa – 6: The former Portugal youth international justified his start, after being a late substitute during 1-0 defeat to Iran. Was fired up for this one.

Achraf Hakimi – 7: His performance levels oscillate from match to match. This time, offered the perfect support for man-on-a-mission Hakim Ziyech of Ajax.

Karim El Ahmadi – 7: His partnership with fellow Netherlands-born centre midfielder Mbark Boussoufa is formidable. Provides the brains of the team.

Mbark Boussoufa – 7: A pair of seasons in the Arabian Gulf League at Al Jazira has not dulled his ability. Helped get the better of his opposite numbers in white.

Nordin Amrabat – 7: The protective gear did not last long and he showed no ill effects of the head blow that brought him off against Iran. Thorn in Raphael Guerreiro’s side.

Younes Belhanda – 5: Galatasaray playmaker has had an underwhelming World Cup. Was denied twice in quick succession by goalkeeper Rui Patricio and then hooked.

Hakim Ziyech – 8: The coveted Ajax creator would have scored even higher if the likes of Benatia, Belhanda and Khalid Boutaib had converted his chances.

Khalid Boutaib 4: The glaring weakness for the Atlas Lions is in attack. Yeni Malatyaspor’s Boutaib did little to dispel this notion during his time on the pitch.

SUBS

Ayoub El Kaabi – 5: The raw RS Berkane man dropped out of the XI. Didn’t make much of an impact when thrown on.

Mehdi Carcela-Gonzalez – 6: One good chance fell way of the Standard Liege-loanee, but he couldn’t profit.

Faycal Fajr – N/A: The Getafe attacking midfielder couldn’t make an impression in short spell of activity.

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Cristiano Ronaldo makes the difference for Portugal in our ratings from tough Morocco win

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Superstar Cristiano Ronaldo became Europe’s record international goalscorer when his early bullet header for Portugal earned a trying 1-0 win against Morocco, who became the first nation eliminated from World Cup 2018.

Ronaldo, 33, rose highest in the fourth minute to nod home Monaco midfielder Joao Moutinho’s inviting centre at Luzhniki Stadium. This was both a leading fourth goal in Russia and 85th effort for his nation in 152 matches – bettering Ferenc Puskas’ tally set for Hungary from 1945-56.

Morocco responded in determined fashion, but could not convert a succession of presentable chances.

Here are our Portugal player ratings:

PORTUGAL (4-4-2)

Rui Patricio – 7: Was busier than he would have expected to be. Second-half duel with Galatasaray’s Younes Belhanda produced a stunning save from a low header.

Cedric Soares – 5: Southampton right-back had to dig in and help his over-run defence. But Ajax’s Hakim Ziyech regularly asked serious questions of him.

Pepe – 7: Morocco produced an aerial bombardment from the flanks. Easily contained Yeni Malatyaspor centre forward Khalid Boutaib and made a brave late block from Ziyech’s shot.

Jose Fonte – 6: The Dalian Yifang centre-back can count himself lucky not to have conceded a first-half penalty for a clear barge on Boutaib. Better game than in 3-3 Spain draw.

Raphael Guerreiro – 5: Guerreiro’s injury travails at Borussia Dortmund can’t have helped him stop a determined Nordin Amrabat. Looked short of his best.

Bernardo Silva – 4: Another disappointing performance from the Manchester City winger. Will be thankful replacement Gelson Martins wasn’t much better during his time on the pitch.

Joao Moutinho – 5: Produced the assist for Ronaldo’s emphatic header. Otherwise, was part of a Portugal midfield that lost the ball with alarming regularity as Morocco pressed.

William Carvalho – 5: The – former? – Sporting Lisbon defensive midfielder provided the flimsiest of shields for his embattled defence as the Moroccans registered more than 10 attempts.

Joao Mario – 5: A nondescript afternoon for the Internazionale-owned midfielder. Was no surprise to see him hooked for the man he replaced in the XI – Bruno Fernandes.

Goncalo Guedes – 5: Dreadful form of AC Mian’s Andre Silva must be only thing keeping him in the team. Denied a goal by a stunning one-handed save from Morocco goalkeeper Munir Mohamedi.

Cristiano Ronaldo – 7: A nation in need turned to Ronaldo, once again. Emphatic header made him Europe’s record international goal scorer. Ballooned over in second half.

SUBS

Gelson Martins – 5: Did not punish the listless Bernardo Silva. Will hope for a start against Iran to prove worth.

Bruno Fernandes – 5: Did superbly well for Sporting last term, but this form hasn’t been witnessed in Russia.

Adrien Silva – N/A: Leicester City midfielder came on in the 89th minute and still managed to pick up a booking.

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Change is in the air for Saudi Arabia and other talking points ahead of Uruguay clash

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Redemption will be on the mind of Saudi Arabia when they continue their World Cup 2018-campaign against Group A-favourites Uruguay at Rostov Arena.

The Green Falcons’ wings were clipped on Thursday’s opening night when hosts Russia – the only nation ranked below them by FIFA – inflicted a 5-0 defeat. This was not how the end of a 12-year exile from the global stage had been envisaged and huge changes are now expected.

Their opponents got the job done against a Mohammed Salah-less Egypt on the next day thanks to Atletico Madrid centre-back Jose Gimenez’s towering late header.

Here are the talking points:

IT’S NOT ALL GONE GREEN

Russia's midfielder Yury Zhirkov (l) vies with Saudi Arabia's midfielder Yahya Al Shehri (r).

Russia’s midfielder Yury Zhirkov (l) vies with Saudi Arabia’s midfielder Yahya Al Shehri (r).

The recriminations from Saudi’s Russia routing hang over this second fixture.

Saudi Football Federation president Adel Ezzat labelled the prior performance “totally unsatisfactory”, with influential General Sports Authority chief Turki Al-Sheikh calling his nation’s second-heaviest defeat in World Cup history “a total fiasco.”

The former also singled out goalkeeper Abdullah Al Mayouf, striker Mohammad Al Sahlawi and defender Omar Hawsawi when he ominously told Al-Youm Assabaa newspaper: “Several players will face a penalty.”

It is fair to deduce that this trio will not play against Uruguay. Several other fallen stars could also be dumped on the sidelines, chief of which is Leganes loanee Yahya Al Shehri.

The 27-year-old was brilliant during pre-tournament warm-ups against Italy – in which he scored – and Germany.

But against Russia, the winger contributed zero shots or key passes. A combined six times he was dispossessed or lost the ball because of a bad touch.

How they missed injured Al Hilal winger Nawaf Al Abed.

Further back, lightweight Hilal centre midfielder Abdullah Otayf made one tackle, clearance and interception apiece. Club-mates Abdulmalek Al Khaibri and Mohamed Kanno would better bridge the physical deficit.

STUTTERING SUAREZ

Luis Suarez (l) reacts after his missed chance against Egypt.

Luis Suarez (l) reacts after his missed chance against Egypt.

Uncertainty is a feeling you rarely associate with Uruguay’s Luis Suarez.

The 31-year-old has earned world renown – and infamy – for his deadeye obsession with both scoring goals and gaining victory. Career tallies of 51 goals in 99 internationals and 372 strikes in 561 club appearances says everything you need to know about the efficacy of the multi-faceted Barcelona striker.

This is what makes Friday’s stuttering run-out at Ekaterinburg Arena so peculiar. Doubt riddled his brain when an extra touch was taken in the second half and he barrelled into inspired Al Ahly goalkeeper Mohamed El Shenawy, plus an earlier snatched effort at the back post when a ball bobbled through from a corner.

Suarez got dispossessed, on average, 1.2 times per game in La Liga last term. The figure ballooned to five against the North Africans.

Such moments were reminiscent of the uncertain figure who meandered through the first half of 2017/18 because of a debilitating knee injury.

It could be a case of Suarez needing to get up to speed again. If so, the Saudi defence should prepare for another exacting examination.

FLUID FAHAD BRINGS FIREPOWER

Saudi Arabia's forward Fahad Al-Muwallad (l) and Russia's defender Sergey Ignashevich clash.

Saudi Arabia’s forward Fahad Al-Muwallad (l) and Russia’s defender Sergey Ignashevich clash.

Mistakes weren’t just the sole preserve of the Saudi players at Luzhniki Stadium.

Head coach Juan Antonio Pizzi’s striker-less system utilised against Italy and Germany appeared to represent a fruitful path. Nominal Al Ittihad winger Fahad Al Muwallad’s searing pace and electric feet then unsettled exalted opposition.

But the competitive action saw a retrograde step back to the out-of-sorts No9 Al Sahlawi.

History shows the Saudis do not tolerate embarrassing failure. Brazil’s World Cup 1994-winning coach Carlos Alberto Parreira was sacked by them after two miserable group-stage matches four years later.

To get any sort of redemptive result, goals are key for Saudi – and they’ll need plenty. Opposing strikers Suarez and Edinson Cavani plundered 53 league goals between them in 2017/18.

Atletico centre-backs Diego Godin and Gimenez will envelop Al Sahlawi with ease. A leg race against Al Muwallad is a different proposition.

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