WORLD CUP 2018

World Cup: Cristiano Ronaldo lifts Portugal to victory

Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates after scoring with a header from a Joao Moutinho cross in the fourth minute to give his side a 1-0 win against Morocco yesterday, taking a second straight man of the match award. With 85 international goa
Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates after scoring with a header from a Joao Moutinho cross in the fourth minute to give his side a 1-0 win against Morocco yesterday, taking a second straight man of the match award. With 85 international goals to his credit, he has now overtaken Hungary's Ferenc Puskas as Europe's all-time leading international marksman.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Portugal skipper grabs winner, headlines as Morocco become the first team eliminated

GROUP B

Portugal 1 Morocco 0

The Spanish can have their tiki taka, the Brazilians may fuss over Neymar, and Argentina still place Lionel Messi on a pedestal.

But there is no doubt about the real deal at this World Cup, as Cristiano Ronaldo seems to be on a one-man mission to drag Portugal to World Cup glory.

With a total of five league titles in England and Spain combined, five Champions League medals and five Ballon d'Or trophies plus the European Championship - he has won the lot.

The World Cup represents the final frontier and the 33-year-old is mounting a superhuman effort in a bid to complete his collection.

On a day when Portugal were outplayed by the effervescent Moroccans, they still left the Luzhniki Stadium with maximum points and are now in a healthy position to progress from Group B.

All thanks to their captain and record scorer.

Leading by example, Ronaldo - who had six of Portugal's eight shots - opened the scoring in the fourth minute, when he stooped to head in Joao Moutinho's cross off Bernardo Silva's short corner, and grabbed his second man-of-the-match award. Last Friday, he notched a hat-trick in the 3-3 draw against Spain in Sochi.

FORTIFIED ATTACK

Cristiano is like port wine. He knows how to refine his capacity and age well. He is a constantly evolving contrary to regular players.

FERNANDO SANTOS, Portugal coach, on his 33-year-old captain and match-winner.

His younger team-mates were hyped up before the tournament but Silva, Joao Mario and Goncalo Guedes have all showed they lack experience to make the right decisions at international level.

This over-reliance on Ronaldo is unsustainable, former England captain Stuart Pearce told The Straits Times.

He added: "Playing like they have tonight, Portugal will not go beyond the semi-finals.

"They do have Ronaldo, who is scoring at the moment, but what happens when his goals stop coming? He will probably have to score in every game if Portugal are to win their first World Cup."

Such comments only serve to fuel Ronaldo's desire. He was booed throughout by Moroccan fans but the cool and cheeky grin never left his face.

 
 
 

Portugal are clearly an imperfect team but in the forward they have the ideal match-winner on the big stage - Ronaldo scored in the Champions League finals in 2008 (Manchester United), 2014 and 2017 (Real Madrid).

He was well below his best last night - even ballooning one clear chance in the second half - but his influence is clear.He was shouting instructions, cajoling team-mates, and even defending set pieces.

With the panic they caused down the flanks and the chances they created, this was a game Morocco could have won with more clinical finishing. Yet a second 1-0 loss means they are the first team eliminated from the Cup.

Better teams and tougher tests await Portugal. Their defence and midfield need to improve drastically. But reflecting their skipper's single-mindedness, they nonetheless found a way to win.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 21, 2018, with the headline 'Ronaldo lifts team to victory'. Print Edition | Subscribe