A goal in the fourth minute by Cristiano Ronaldo was all Portugal needed to get over the Morocco obstacle, who at least deserved a draw for all the effort they put in. It was Ronaldo’s 85th goal in 152 appearances for his country.
Morocco, thus, became the first country dumped out of Russia 2018.
Morocco got the effort towards target in the first minute with so much energy as they did not allow the Portuguese any minute on the ball. Bernardo Silva twisted to win the first corner of the match in the third minute. Cristiano Ronaldo got his head-on the ball in the fourth minute and just like he did against Spain, the Real Madrid talisman gave his country an early lead. The goal was Ronaldo’s fourth in the 2018 World Cup.
Ronaldo almost got the second in the eighth minute; but after a neat turn, he screwed his effort wide. Mbark Boussoufa mistimed his leap and shouldered across wide off target in the 10th minute. Mehdi Benatia forced a save from Rui Patricio as Morocco got on the ball much more. At the 15th-minute mark, Morocco had 60 per cent of the possession but Portugal had the important goal.
Hakim Ziyach had his shot blocked by Cedric Soares on 17 minutes as the action ebbed and flowed. Boussoufa fouled Joao Moutinho. Morocco were really on the front foot, winning corner after corner.
Ziyach tested Patricio’s concentration with a shot from 40 yards but it was comfortable for the new Wolves goalkeeper. Benatia was spoken to by referee, Mark Geiger, from the USA, for a shove on Ronaldo. Raphael Guerreiro wrestled the ball off Nordin Amrabat – that looked a borderline penalty but the referee waved play on. Herve Renard asked why VAR was not consulted for the act and had to be spoken to by the centre referee after haranguing the fourth official.
There was a clash of heads between Fonte and Khalid Boutaib in the Portugal box and in the next phase of action, a foul was awarded to Portugal on the edge of the Morocco box. The free kick was blocked as the pressure eased on the Portuguese.
Ronaldo created a scoring chance for Goncalo Guedes in the 40th minute, but Mohamedi Munir made an instinctive save with his left arm. Benatia was then shown a yellow card for persistent fouling.
Younes Belhanda then went down injured in the centre of the pitch after a confrontation with William Carvalho and needed treatment on the pitch.
The last action of the half was Guerreiro fouling Ambrabat on the right. Ziyech flashed a header towards, but it needed a connection before it went wide. Morocco really played well in that first half with two shots on target and they also forced three corner kicks.
Guedes won the first corner of the second half which Jose Fonte headed wide. Th referee had already blown for a foul on Nabil Dirar. A quick free-kick created a scoring chance for Ronaldo, who had been fouled on halfway by Benatia. When he ran unto the ball in the 51st minute, it looked like Morocco were going to go down to two goals but he showed he was human by skying the chance.
The pace had not slackened with Morocco trying to win all the second balls. Belhanda had a shot on target with 55 minutes gone but the effort was well held by Patricio. Amrabat was the Moroccan leading the charge from the right flank and having fought off the attentions of Joao Mario and Guerreiro.
Patricio made a George Best-like save from a Belhanda header that was heading in – the best save so far in Russia 2018 as Morocco cranked up the pressure. Gelson Martins came on for Bernardo Silva in the 58th minute as Fernando Santos sought to introduce more pace into his attack. Benatia had a scoring chance in the box but his left-footed shot was just over the crossbar.
Guerreiro was spoken to by Mark Geiger with the Moroccans demanding a card. Guerreiro fouled Boussoufa on the edge of the box with 67 minutes gone. Ziyach flashed the free kick over the bar.
Pepe needed to be quick with a clearance in the 71st after substitut Bruno Fernandes gave away the ball. Morocco forced two consecutive corners before Dirar flashed a shot powerfully wide. Fernandes had a shooting chance outside the box but his effort was poor and wide.
Benatia fouled Ronaldo on the edge of the box – he took it and it was charged down. He then took a tumble, for which there was no contact. VAR should have reviewed that for a yellow card.