MOSCOW: Cristiano Ronaldo was exceptional in Portugal’s opening World Cup game and now has a chance to help his team knock Morocco out of the tournament.
Ronaldo scored a hat trick in the opening Group B match against Spain, a 3-3 draw that so far stands as the most exciting game of this year’s World Cup. Morocco dominated its opening match against Iran but lost 1-0 on an own-goal by forward Aziz Bouhaddouz in stoppage time.
If Ronaldo plays at the same level Wednesday at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, a Portugal victory would ensure elimination for Morocco.
There is history between these teams, as well as Ronaldo and Morocco center back Mehdi Benatia.
Morocco and Portugal played each other at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, and the Moroccans won 3-1 to enter the round of 16 while Portugal finished last. The last time Ronaldo and Benatia faced each other was in April in a Champions League quarterfinal match. Benatia, playing for Juventus, pushed a Real Madrid player to draw a penalty. Ronaldo scored and Madrid advanced on its way to a record 13th European title.
Although Ronaldo was spectacular against Spain and his tally included a late free kick, Morocco’s defense has not let an opposing player score in World Cup qualifying since 2015.
Against Portugal, Morocco must earn at least one point before Spain plays Iran in Wednesday’s late game in Kazan. —AP