Ronaldo and Portugal eliminate Morocco from World Cup with 1-0 win
Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo warms up before the group B match between Portugal and Morocco at the 2018 soccer World Cup in the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, June 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)
Graham Dunbar, The Associated Press
Published Wednesday, June 20, 2018 8:03AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, June 20, 2018 10:27AM EDT
MOSCOW -- Cristiano Ronaldo made European soccer history by scoring in Portugal's 1-0 win over Morocco on Wednesday, a result that makes the North African team the first to be eliminated from the World Cup.
Ronaldo's header in the fourth minute was his fourth goal at this year's tournament, and his 85th for his country. That moved him ahead of Hungary great Ferenc Puskas and alone in second place worldwide behind Ali Daei's 109 goals for Iran.
The Portugal forward celebrated his goal with a trademark run and soaring leap toward the corner flag at the Luzhniki Stadium.
Morocco lost 1-0 for the second straight Group B match and is out of contention for a spot in the next round.
The North Africans had several chances against Portugal, nearly all from set pieces, and three of them came in a five-minute spell early in the second half. Younes Belhanda was twice denied by goalkeeper Rui Patricio's diving saves, and defender Mehdi Benatia scooped a shot over the bar.
In injury time, Benatia lifted another shot too high with an even clearer chance.
Ronaldo's four goals tops the individual scoring chart at the World Cup. Buoyed by his hat trick against Spain on Friday, including a spectacular free kick late in the game, Ronaldo scored against Morocco with his first meaningful touch early in the match.
He was too strong for marker Manuel Da Costa and found space in the goalmouth to meet Joao Moutinho's cross after a corner.
Ronaldo had two more free kick chances, though each from less than 20 yards (meters). He could not get the ball up and over a solid wall of defenders on either occasion.
Benatia, a rugged defender who plays for Juventus, led the efforts to stop Ronaldo. His hard tackles from behind, however, earned him a yellow card.
Portugal looks well set to advance to the round of 16 while Morocco will certainly be going home.
Portugal now has four points and leads Group B ahead of the late match between Iran and Spain.
The Portuguese will face Iran in their final match on Monday in Saransk.
KEYS TO SUCCESS
Ronaldo was a clinical finisher and also one of Portugal's best defenders. His headed clearances helped out a back line that seems vulnerable to corners and free kicks despite the height of veteran centre backs Pepe and Jose Fonte.
Morocco, playing in its first World Cup in 20 years, linked play neatly through midfield but relied on set-pieces for its clearest chances - a growing theme at this year's tournament.
Its clearest shooting chances fell to a defender, Benatia, who could not keep them on target.