MOSCOW — All that’s great and rotten concerning the World Cup surfaced at sold-out Luzhniki Stadium on Wednesday.
We’ll start with the nice, as a result of that’s the reason folks traveled nice distances and are spending stacks of rubles to attend. It’s why tons of of thousands and thousands across the blue planet will watch on varied digital units in any respect hours for 4 weeks.
Goodness was on show earlier than 4 minutes had transpired within the Portugal-Morocco match as that good-looking satan, Cristiano Ronaldo, continued his hellacious begin to this match by ditching a defender and nodding a cross into the online.
His fourth purpose in two video games stood up, however simply barely, as Portugal dodged one menace after one other earlier than escaping with a 1-Zero victory.
With 4 factors, the European champions are on the cusp of a round-of-16 berth from Group B — and a doable showdown with goal-happy Russia.
“If we lost, we could be out,” Ronaldo mentioned. Instead, “we’re almost there.”
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Now the dangerous: Joseph “Sepp” Blatter, the disgraced former president of FIFA, soccer’s tainted governing physique, arrived in Russia to attend two matches this week.
In doing so, he has solid a shadow over a cheery tournament and rekindled darkish recollections of a corruption scandal that paralyzed the game three years in the past and resulted in quite a few federal indictments.
Found responsible by FIFA of economic misconduct, Blatter, 82, is banned from serving within the sport for an additional 3½ years. Nothing, nonetheless, prevents him from shopping for a ticket or accepting an invite to look at in a VIP space. In this case, the latter utilized.
Who would invite him? Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Blatter had helped steer help for Russia’s World Cup bid, which, like Qatar’s victory within the race to host the 2022 match, was marred by bribe allegations. (Putin didn’t attend Wednesday.)
Blatter’s title wasn’t on the official listing of VIPs in attendance, issued by FIFA at kickoff. While Gianni Infantino, Blatter’s successor, watched from FIFA’s suite, Blatter was elsewhere on the luxurious stage. He additionally plans to attend the Brazil-Costa Rica affair Friday in St. Petersburg.
Attempting to rehabilitate his profession — and maybe troll the present FIFA management — he has agreed to a number of interviews, signed autographs and posed for images. FIFA hasn’t commented on his presence.
Okay, again to the match. Ronaldo offered the lead on a six-yard header, his 85th purpose (in 152 appearances) to set European soccer’s all-time scoring file in worldwide matches. He had been tied with Hungary’s Ferenc Puskas (84 in 85 matches from 1945 to ’56).
Bernardo Silva performed a brief nook to Joao Moutinho, who whipped a cross to the sting of the six-yard field. Manuel da Costa misplaced monitor of Ronaldo, a blunder that, given the space, was lethal.
A day earlier, Morocco Coach Herve Renard mentioned his group should make Ronaldo “less exceptional.” It failed.
After the match, Renard mentioned, “The most gifted players are the ones who make all the difference.”
Aside from Portugal’s opponents, Ronaldo is locked in an unofficial competitors with his fellow megastar, Argentina’s Lionel Messi. So far, it’s a blowout. The Real Madrid ahead leads the match in targets; Messi missed a penalty and was largely contained by Iceland on Saturday.
“He’s like a fine port wine,” Portugal Coach Fernando Santos mentioned of his 33-year-old ace. “He knows how to refine his game. He is constantly evolving. He knows what he can do. He knows himself and he knows how to improve himself.”
Ronaldo’s 4 targets have come on a goalkeeping miscue, a penalty kick, an outrageous free kick and now a header. He’d scored one purpose in every of his earlier three World Cups.
Renard thought the purpose ought to’ve been disallowed as a result of Portuguese defender Pepe worn out a Moroccan participant away from the ball. “Have a good look [at replays] and look at what [Pepe] is doing,” he mentioned to a room filled with reporters. “And write the truth.”
Santos countered by saying: “The first foul was really the Morocco player. And then Pepe defended himself.”
U.S. referee Mark Geiger had no points and let the purpose stand.
Portugal’s lead was not hermetic, by any means. Morocco (no factors) pressured the problem and generated quite a few alternatives, which had been undermined by wayward capturing and Rui Patricio’s goalkeeping.
Back to Ronaldo: There are few moments in soccer, maybe in all of sport, that crackle with anticipation greater than these few seconds earlier than he strikes a free kick.
In the 32nd minute, with a free kick from 21 yards, Ronaldo regarded to repeat the sensational set piece within the dying moments of Friday’s 3-3 draw with Spain. This time, he pounded it into the wall. (The similar factor occurred within the dying moments of the match.)
There had been different alternatives to place away the match and develop his scoring whole. Early within the second half, he ran onto a rolling ball contained in the penalty space and lined up a thunderous shot that may absolutely ship Morocco to the brink of defeat. His effort sailed deep into the Moroccan supporters’ part.
Nonetheless, Ronaldo dominated the day once more — irrespective of how onerous Blatter tried.
— Steven Goff
Portugal: vs. Iran in Saransk, June 25, 2 p.m.
Morocco: vs. Spain in Kaliningrad, June 25, 2 p.m.
Hey, it’s Ronaldo
In the 84th minute, it’s Morocco’s flip for a sloppy clear and Ronaldo — unheard from for a really lengthy stretch — is fouled inches exterior the field. His free kick bangs off the wall.
Fayçal Fajr replaces Karim El Ahmadi, and Morocco is out of subs.
Minutes later, Joao Joao Moutinho is off and Adrien Silva is on for Portugal, which is likewise out of subs. Silva attracts a yellow card for an errant takedown minutes later.
Another sub for Morocco
Mehdi Carcela-Gonzalez enters for Morocco, changing Younes Belhanda within the 75th minute. The latter had an excellent stretch within the second half.
Amrabat is now attacking the left aspect of the sphere, it seems. Interesting.
The frazzled Portuguese
Ahead of a Morocco close-in free kick within the 67th minute — Ziyach despatched it effectively over the bar — Portugal’s gamers appeared to be pleading with Coach Fernando Santos to make some adjustments within the again to fend off this relentless assault. He responded by sending in Bruno Fernandes for Joao Mario (Fernandes began Portugal’s World Cup opener forward of Mario).
Meanwhile, Ayoub El Kaabi is on for Morocco, changing Khalid Boutaib up high.
Gelson Martins is available in for Bernardo Silva within the 59th minute.
More sloppiness from Portugal
The favorites proceed to do themselves no favors, lethargically giving the ball away at midfield quite a few occasions over the primary 10 minutes of the second half. Morocco continues to press after the miscues, and within the 55th minute, Younes Belhanda despatched a rocket that Patricia needed to attain to cease.
Two minutes later, Patricio has the save of the sport, once more on Belhanda, who headed a free kick towards the purpose. Patricio dives with all of his top to reserve it.
Halftime: Portugal 1, Morocco Zero
The score line says Portugal is successful, however that’s removed from obvious on the sphere. Amrabat’s capability to race the ball previous the Portugal protection on the best aspect is giving the favourite all kinds of troubles. All the Atlas Lions want is one clear cross and we’re speaking about a wholly completely different recreation.
In the 39th minute, Ronaldo chips the ball to an advancing Gonçalo Guedes, who had gotten a step on the protection within the field. El Kajoui is ready to make the save, nonetheless.
Less than a minute later, Morocco’s Mehdi Benatia will get a yellow card after being repeatedly warned. The crowd appears eminently, loudly pro-Morocco, and they’re not pleased with the calls. Morocco has been whistled for 10 fouls, 5 for Portugal.
More from Morocco
Take away the purpose and it’s been all Morocco, whose assault is greatest described as frantic.
Mehdi Benatia shoves Ronaldo to the turf from behind within the 25th minute and will get a stern lecture from referee Mark Geiger. Ronaldo writhed round for a bit clutching his ankle, however he’s again.
Morocco Coach Herve Renard additionally will get a talking-to after vehemently protesting the dearth of a name when Nordin Amrabat is taken down by Raphael Guerreiro in — or at the very least very close to to — the field. No overview, play on.
Morocco not backing down
Apart from some questionable marking of the world’s biggest participant — Ronaldo acquired one other good try not lengthy after his purpose — Morocco isn’t laying down, forcing Rui Patricio to get down and made a save off a header within the 11th minute. They’ve had a variety of okay probabilities already.
In the fourth minute, who else: Ronaldo heads it in after a brief nook kick is delivered proper to his cranium. Nifty step across the defender within the field to get free, and he’s performed it once more. It’s his 85th profession worldwide purpose, shifting him previous Ferenc Puskas of Hungary for probably the most by a European participant.
New search for Ronaldo?
Everyone nonetheless is speaking about Cristiano Ronaldo’s hat trick in last week’s mesmerizing 3-3 draw with Spain, however let’s not neglect that a type of targets shouldn’t have occurred: Spain goalkeeper David De Gea let one via that he normally would have stopped late within the first half, when Spain was dominating. A save there, and the run-up to Wednesday’s conflict with Morocco may have had a wholly completely different theme. As it stands, Portugal doesn’t need something lower than a win right here.
Nordin Amrabat will play for Morocco even after he bonked heads with Iran’s Vahid Amiri in final week’s dispiriting 1-0 loss, struggling a concussion. With matches looming towards Portugal and Spain, the Atlas Lions desperately wanted to come back away with at the very least a degree towards Iran, a hope that was dashed when Aziz Bouhaddouz headed the ball into his personal web effectively into further time within the second half. Morocco now wants at the very least a draw with Portugal to have any likelihood on the knockout spherical, a tall activity.
Portugal: Patricio, Cedric, Pepe, Fonte, Guerreiro, Silva, Moutinho, Carvalho, Mario, Guedes, Ronaldo.
Morocco: Mohamedi, Dirar, Da Costa, Benatia, Hakimi, El Ahmadi, Boussoufa, Belhanda, Harit, Boutaib, Ziyech.
Of be aware: Joao Mario replaces Bruno Fernandes on the left aspect of Portugal’s midfield. For Morocco, Manuel Da Costa — son of a Portuguese father and a Moroccan mom — replaces Romain Saïss within the middle of its protection.
— Matt Bonesteel
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