Cristiano Ronaldo’s goal saves Portugal and sends Morocco out of World Cup

Without Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal would be packing their bags, preparing for an early return home, writes David McDonnell in Moscow. The superstar scored again against Morocco here, making it four goals in two matches, to register a win that was ­undeserved, but kept the European champions on course for the knockout stages. Without Ronaldo, there would be none of the four goals registered by Portugal in this tournament including the winner against Morocco, which has taken his overall tally to 85, the most scored in international football by a European footballer. Without Ronaldo this would be a mediocre team, rather than a mediocre team with a first-class goal scorer who barely has to flash a glance at the camera to get himself voted the sponsors’ man of the match.

But while Ronaldo continued his quest to make this World Cup all about him, his contribution showed just how abject his team would be without him leading them. Fresh from a hat-trick in the ­thrilling 3-3 draw in Friday’s opener against Spain, Ronaldo was the main man again, plundering an early header which sealed the win. But the brutal truth is that Portugal were lucky, ­outplayed by ­opponents who are undeservedly out of the tournament after a second straight defeat in which they were the better side after their opening loss to Iran. Ronaldo may still lead the race for the Golden Boot, but the Portuguese must undergo a dramatic change in form if they are to have any chance of going far here in Russia.

Aside from ­Ronaldo’s goal, his 85th in 152 appearances, making him the highest European international goal scorer of all-time, and Fernando Santos’s men ­offered ­little else and clung on for the win. All the enterprise and ambition came from Morocco, who were ­ultimately let down by a lack of conviction and cutting edge. Ronaldo’s decisive goal earned him the man-of-the-match award from FIFA, although any of Morocco’s ebullient ­attackers were worthy of it, while newly-signed Wolves keeper, Rui Patricio, played a key role, including one ­outstanding save in the second half. Yet Portugal are a bit more than that. They also encompass Pepe, Ronaldo’s erstwhile Real Madrid team-mate, who slumped to the ground in agony when Menat Benatia tapped him on the shoulder, and also launched himself like a bowling ball at the Morocco defenders who were trying to block the corner from which Portugal scored. Portugal, are also the goalkeeper Rui Patricio, on his way to Wolverhampton Wanderers, whose fine save in the second half from Younes Belhandia preserved his team’s lead.

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