World Cup: 5 talking points as Portugal ride their luck against Morocco

World Cup: 5 talking points as Portugal ride their luck against Morocco

Cristiano Ronaldo powered-home a fourth-minute header to eliminate Morocco from the 2018 World Cup on Wednesday (Jun 20), making the North African side the first team to be kicked out of the tournament. But it was a fixture that could well have played out differently, as Morocco blew their chances while Lady Luck shone on Ronaldo and company. 

Here are five talking points from that match: 

1. Amrabat leaves his mark 

Although their days at the 2018 World Cup are numbered, the North African side certainly did not disappear quietly into the night. Aggression was the name of their game as they took turns to foul Portugal's stars Ronaldo, Gelson Martins and Raphael Guerreiro. 

Here's Morocco's Nordin Amrabat channelling his inner wolverine on Guerreiro, just before turning to the referee demanding for a penalty: 

Despite his noteworthy efforts, the Watford winger could not claw his team back into the game. 

Amrabat certainly gave Guerreiro a torrid time throughout, teaching the Portuguese left-back a brutal footballing lesson that had nothing to do with joga bonito.

2. Herve the heartbreaker 

Ronaldo who? Since their opening game against Iran, Moroccan coach Herve Renard has won many hearts for his hunky physique and chiseled good looks, making him the leading contender for sexiest man at the tournament. 

Game of Thrones fans have noticed the uncanny resemblance to main character Jaime Lannister. But what's most impressive is how the Frenchman pulls off the messy-bad boy look - excessively tight fitting white shirts, tucked out indifferently. 

World Cup - Group B - Morocco vs Iran
Soccer Football - World Cup - Group B - Morocco vs Iran - Saint Petersburg Stadium, Saint Petersburg, Russia - June 15, 2018 Morocco coach Herve Renard gestures during the match REUTERS/Michael Dalder

3. Clinical Cristiano, wasteful Benatia 

In a tightly contested game, it was how their respective skippers fared in front of goal that mattered in the end. With his first chance of the game, Ronaldo bravely dived and headed the ball into the net, narrowly avoiding the studs of a Moroccan boot. 

Ronaldo header goal
Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo, with blue captain's armband, heads the ball to score the opening goal during the group B match between Portugal and Morocco at the 2018 soccer World Cup in the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, Russia on Jun 20, 2018. (Photo: AP/Victor Caivano)

Meanwhile, Mehdi Benatia wasted chance after chance after chance to equalise, including a stoppage time shot from inside the penalty box. With no Portuguese defender making a challenge, the Juventus centre-back smashed the ball over the bar and into the stands. 

4. Patricio saves the day 

Without goalkeeper Rui Patricio, Portugal would have lost this game. The 30-year-old, who recently signed for English side Wolves, made a stupendous diving save after Younes Belhanda's header seemed destined for goal. Arguably the save of the tournament. 

5. And the Oscar goes to ... 

When his footballing career is over, Portugal defender Pepe should consider a stint in Hollywood. The defender has showed glimpses of his acting talent in this World Cup: In Portugal's 3-3 draw against Spain, the burly 35-year-old threw himself to the ground, rolling around while clutching his face after Spain's Diego Costa barely touched him en route to scoring his first goal. 

Against Morocco, Pepe did the same, screaming as he collapsed on the grass after Benatia tapped his shoulder twice. Pure talent. 

Source: CNA/am