Morocco are the first team eliminated from the 2018 FIFA World Cup, despite a spirited performance in a 1-0 loss to Portugal.
An early goal from Cristiano Ronaldo had Portugal in front, but their performance was poor as Morocco bossed the game.
However, some poor finishing and a spectacular piece of goalkeeping meant Morocco stood no chance of qualifying from Group B with a defeat.
After a 3-3 draw with Spain in the opening game, this was an important match for Portugal who will have expected to win. For Morocco, a loss to Iran meant they needed something against the Portuguese to stand a chance of qualification. For that reason, it was on the shoulders of key men such as Younes Belhanda and Hakim Ziyech to pull out a performance for their country.
Unfortunately for Morocco, they were dealt the worst start as they fell behind within four minutes and it was Portugal’s main man again. Ronaldo is making this World Cup his and it was a trademark header from the Real Madrid superstar. Joao Moutinho’s sweeping cross fell to the ex-Manchester United man who was completely unmarked so it was no surprise to see the net bulge moments later.
It was awful defending from Morocco and Herve Renard will be furious at the marking. For Ronaldo, it was a historic goal as he become the all-time leading European goalscorer in international football taking his tally to 85.
Morocco were actually the better team in the first half. They had more of the ball, looked smarter in possession and defended well after the goal. Despite that, they found opportunities hard to come by and it was the European champions who had better chances. Ronaldo’s scuffed shot after nine minutes fell wide of the far post, but it was with six minutes to go until half-time that it should have been 2-0.
Ronaldo was instrumental in the build-up and a great deft pass played in the run of Goncalo Guedes. The youngster has looked over-awed at the tournament so far and his lack of composure showed again as he sliced his half-volley at goal which allowed Mounir Mohamedi to make a comfortable save. The Portugal man should have done much better, but it meant Morocco were still in the game going into the second half.
During his career, Ronaldo have gained an almost super-human like status in the footballing world, but at the start of the second half, he proved he was human after all in a slightly comical moment. Guedes’ mis-hit shot fell perfectly for the La Liga star and with Renard fearing a second goal incoming, Ronaldo blazed well over to the shock and disbelief of the stadium.
The Moroccans had their chances in the second half though. They looked deadly from set-pieces in particular thanks in part to some incredible deliveries from Ziyech. The Ajax man’s great in-swinging free-kick was flicked on nicely by Belhanda but with a save mirroring Gordon Banks in 1970, Rui Patricio got down low to palm the ball away to safety. It was a super save and it will breed excitement for the Wolves fans after he signed for the Premier League club for the new season.
The African team would create one more major opportunity, but you could argue it felt to the wrong person. It was another Ziyech delivery that bounced around the Portugal box and it was Morocco captain Nadhi Benatia who swung his left leg at it. Despite playing for Juventus and scoring in a cup final this season, the centre-back couldn’t keep it down from 12 yards and with it, Morocco’s hopes disappeared.
Renard will be proud of his team’s performance against a side like Portugal, but the loss to Iran has come back to haunt them as they were eliminated from the tournament. For Portugal, it’s on to the next game as they look to pip Spain to top spot in Group B.