Portugal 1-0 Morocco: 5 things we learned as Ronaldo sends Morocco out

The Lions of the Atlas failed to roar as they became the first nation to exit the tournament whilst a familiar name continued his own narrative.

REUTERS/Carl Recine

Separated geographically by only a small stretch of water, there proved to be only one player dividing these countries on the football pitch.

Cristiano Ronaldo once again scored a goal in the fourth minute to put the Portuguese into a commanding position from the outset. It may have taken him an extra 28 seconds to score in this game, but it was his 85th international goal, overtaking Ferenc Puskás as the outright, second-highest scorer at this level.

Having failed to deliver consistently in a World Cup tournament prior to this summer, Ronaldo has set a high benchmark during the early fixtures.

Whilst we already knew Ronaldo was quite good at football, however, what else did we learn from Morocco’s unfortunate demise?

  1. 1 No fear, no relent, no glory

    REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

    Morocco started the game as you would expect of a team desperately needing to win. They attacked from the first moments and although they were unable to stymie Ronaldo’s desire and anticipation, they continued to be the more adventurous side in this match.

    Playing with a sense of urgency throughout, Morocco exerted great energy in pressing and harrying the Portuguese as their survival hung in the balance. 

    What was notable, however, was their energy levels did not dwindle in the latter stages of the game.

    It was not enough alone to prevent them becoming the first team eliminated from the tournament, but they could not be accused of a lack of effort. 

  2. 2 Just enough

    REUTERS/Carl Recine

    By contrast, Portugal played a more conservative style which gave them victory through rigidity. 

    After a brand of attritional football proved enough for Portugal to lift the 2016 European Championship, their economical philosophy is proving reliable once more.

    Once Portugal had taken an early lead in this match they rarely threatened Munir Mohand Mohamedi’s goal. They managed a mere eight touches in the opposition penalty area as opposed to Morocco’s 35.

    The average position on the field after 90 minutes also showed only three Portuguese players sitting just over the half-way line.

    Content to sit deep and frustrate their opponents, it was a tactic which worked and has proven effective for other side’s in this World Cup, meaning we will see it again in the not-so-distant future.

  3. 3 Left back for dead

    REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

    Much of the pre-game build-up focused on how Portugal’s ageing defenders would manage the pace of Morocco’s attack. José Fonte and Pepe have a combined age of 69, however, it was 24-year-old Raphaël Guerreiro who proved to be the weak link in their back four.

    While some of this can be attributed to the lack of pace and physical presence offered by Khalid Boutaib, Morocco’s lone striker, Portugal’s low block also meant there was little space for their centre-backs to cover.

    Two defensive banks of four players meant the Lions of the Atlas were limited to long shots and crosses from the wing which played to the Portuguese central defenders strengths.

    The destruction of Guerreiro by Watford’s Noureddine Amrabat surely paves the way for Mario Rui to make a start in their final group game against Iran though.

    Guerreiro had tackled well in the previous match against Spain, however, a new option at left-back at least needs to be explored on the evidence witnessed at the Luzhniki Stadium.

  4. 4 Seminal set pieces

    REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

    There can now be little underestimating the importance of set pieces at this World Cup. The game’s only goal came from a corner as did many of the match's best opportunities.

    This was the 24th goal of the tournament to be the product of a set piece from the 45 goals which have so far been scored. It was also the third of four goals for Portugal which have come directly from a dead-ball situation.

    Morocco’s first and last shots of the first half also came from a set-play while Younes Belhanda’s 55th minute flick from a free-kick was only thwarted by an outstanding reflex save from Rui Patricio.

    It was to be the closest Morocco came to moving the scoreboard and looked their most likely route to breaking their World Cup drought.

  5. 5 Victims of their own inaccuracy

    REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

    Not all efforts on goal came through a set piece, with Morocco crafting several good chances from open play.

    In Amrabat and Hakim Ziyech, Morocco had creative players who could carve out openings. What they didn’t have was a player who could add a clinical edge to their efforts. 

    Khalid Boutaib was preferred to Ayoub El Kaabi in attack in one of three changes made to the starting lineup by Hervé Renard.

    The Turkish-based striker was unable to make any significant impression on the game, though, and failed to trouble Patricio’s goal before his substitution.

    The majority of Morocco’s best chances fell to captain Medhi Benatia. However, the Juventus centre-back showed the composure commonly expected of a player in his position.

    While Portugal’s Goncalo Guedes has looked equally ineffective at this tournament, Portugal at least have the irrepressible figure of Ronaldo to step up and deliver for the team when needed.

Listen to the RealSport football writers discuss all the action from Day 7 of the World Cup in Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.

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