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Men's Football Morocco the first team eliminated from the World Cup as Ronaldo header gives Portugal a slender win

JUST four days after setting the World Cup alight with the first hat-trick of the World Cup, it took Cristiano Ronaldo just four minutes to write another page in football history.

His flying header into the roof of the net from Joao Moutinho’s right-wing cross made him the highest-scoring European man in the history of international football, breaking the record of fellow Real Madrid legend Ferenc Puskas. 

Only Iran’s Ali Daei stands ahead of Ronaldo now with 109 international goals, 24 more than the Portuguese captain.

Morocco, needing a result to stay in the competition, responded strongly and almost equalised seven minutes later from another right-wing corner, but new Wolverhampton Wanderers signing Rui Patricio dived low to save Mehdi Benatia’s header on his goal-line. 

Ronaldo turned provider in the 39th minute, lifting the ball over the Moroccan defence for strike partner Goncalo Guedes, whose shot was pushed out by Monir El Kajoui. The same player’s miskick fell to Ronaldo in the 51st minute, but he skied a clear chance.

Thereafter, Morocco dominated. Moments later, Patricio came to the European champions’ rescue with a stunning one-handed save reminiscent of Gordon Banks’s famous save from Pele in the 1970 World Cup as Younes Belhanda flicked on Hakim Ziyach’s free-kick. 

Benatia then blazed over from yet another Moroccan set piece and repeated the trick in injury time as the Atlas Lions bowed out of the tournament with a game yet to play.

Moroccan coach Herve Renard was unhappy that Pepe went unpunished for jumping into Khalid Boutaib at the near post as Ronaldo scored the crucial goal. “Have a good look at what the No 3 is doing and do your own analysis and write the truth.” 

Despite his team becoming the first team eliminated from the World Cup, Renard added: “There is one thing that I am sure of right now, that the whole of Morocco is proud, and even very proud, of its team. We’ve shown that we can play football, we do play football, we’ve shown it during our two games. It’s true that we were not very effective in the end.”

Portuguese coach Fernando Santos was unhappy with his team’s general performance, saying: “There was no intensity in the game. We started the game very well. After 10, 15 minutes, the team just couldn’t keep the ball, couldn’t really play. We have to be able to deal with the pressure and create dynamics to get out of the pressure. We were running out of lungs.”

On his timeless captain, Santos was full of praise. “Cristiano is like a port wine, he knows how to refine his capacity and age at his best. His physical capacity, his technical prowess, his strategy, he is constantly evolving differently from normal players. 

“He doesn’t want to do today what he did four of five years ago and in two or three years he is not going to be doing the same as he is doing today. He knows himself and how to improve himself.” 

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