FT World Cup 2018: Live From Russia - Cristiano Proves Decisive Against Morocco
FirstTouch is in Russia for the World Cup 2018. We will be attending multiple games and celebrating the world’s game with fans from all across the world! Enjoy our blogs that document some of our experiences.
The most riveting thing about experiencing the World Cup 2018 in Russia has been seeing world class players up close and personal. When you watch the game on television, it is completely different from seeing the movements and progressions that occur in a game. This experience is especially highlighted when witnessing one of the greatest players to ever play the game of football. We have been fortunate to see both players on either side of the debate of which is the GOAT. Lionel Messi came first, and although he was breathtaking to watch live, his missed penalty against Iceland proved decisive for all the wrong reasons, unfortunately. Cristiano Ronaldo, however, proved decisive for all the right reasons as Portugal defeated a Morocco team that largely outplayed them for most of the match. His fourth-minute header was the only goal in a 1-0 victory and when he scored it, the Luzhniki Stadium erupted with a roar equally mixed with cheers and boos. And this moment best encapsulates all that is Cristiano, in my opinion. A player with adoring fans worldwide, but also a player some fans love to hate.
Morocco, to their credit, played excellent football. Their build-up play was measured and their comfort on the ball was impressive, particularly against the reigning European Champions. The Portuguese manager, Fernando Santos, is famous for producing tactically disciplined teams that are resolute in defense and equally impressive in their attacking moments. So to see Morocco have Portugal against the ropes for large parts of the match was at times surprising, but to a devout Moroccan fan, it would not have come as a surprise perhaps. I must admit to not having seen too many Moroccan games before this one, but I am familiar with some of their standout players. Medhi Benatia and Younes Belhanda are two of the most successful Moroccan exports, but as a team, there were skillful players in each position. All that was unfortunately lacking was a decisive attacker to seize the chances that Morocco was able to create against Portugal’s defense. Pepe and his fellow defenders bent but did not break. Rui Patricio came up with several key saves, and one wonders if not for the early goal from Cristiano, would the game have assumed a slightly different dynamic. Portugal, at times, was more than happy to sit deep and absorb Moroccan attacks wave after wave, only to then counter with quickness, using Cristiano as the perfect release outlet.
Cristiano Ronaldo showed all 80,000 fans packed into Moscow’s biggest stadium why he commands all the attention and adoration he does. Earlier in his career, he used to run defenders ragged and confuse them with an array of skills performed at breathtaking speeds. Now, he chooses his moments, his endless runs are now decisive sprints and quick bursts of movement in the box. He has become a world class striker and for all of Morocco’s guile and creativity, they sorely lacked a player with the ruthless efficiency of Cristiano. As an attacking player on a counter-attacking team, there are inevitably moments in the match he must wait and defend more than he would like to. However, when called into action, a hush would come over the crowd as Cristiano would explode into action. His movements are much more intentional at this stage of his career and his decisions much more direct and decisive. Every time he had the ball in Morocco’s final third, one sensed a goal could come of whatever he created. Cristiano was also incredibly selfless in his efforts to defend set pieces, with the irony being that he of all people understands the importance of staying focused for those several moments in a match when an accurately delivered ball can affect a change or provide the decisive moment. Having seized the first moment that arrived on his head after a sharp, quick movement in the box to lose his defender, it was admirable to see how often he won defensive headers as well.
Overall, it was an excellent match for the neutral to watch, but as a long-time Cristiano fan, I was finally afforded the pleasure of seeing why he proves so decisive so often. Whereas Lionel Messi controls the game, Cristiano decided his game. Portugal left the pitch with all three points, albeit a draw or even a Morocco win would have been a more fair result. But football is rarely fair. It is a cruel sport that sometimes robs the better team of any tangible satisfaction. Morocco played excellent football but left with 0 points. And Portugal, as well as all football fans were again reminded how decisive and crucial Cristiano Ronaldo is.