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Never letting go of an opportunity to strike a chord – that defines the Portugal captain, against Morocco on Wednesday, in his current goal-scoring form, his status can only go north.
The African Lions, back among the world’s elite after a 20-year absence, made an unfortunate start to this World Cup. Morocco dominated Iran, but Aziz Bouhaddouz’s 95th minute, self-inflicted goal sunk them 1-0 in Friday’s Group B encounter in Saint Petersburg.
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The teams from Africa do not have anything to show for as the World Cup 2018 enters its second week. Wednesday’s face-off at the Luzhniki comes with interesting sidelights though. The last time the two teams met was in 1986 World Cup where Abdelrazze Khairi’s two goals helped Morocco to a 3-1 victory.
It might spur the lions to roar but on the other hand, Portugal too have some piece of history to fall back upon. The last time Portugal scored three goals in their opening World Cup match, as they did against Spain in Sochi on Friday, eventually saw them finish third in their best-ever performance in the tournament – in 1966.
But Ronaldo is on a history-making spree rather than repeating one. His free-kick that denied Spain a victory gave the world a moment of pure joy. Morocco’s Mehdi Benatia has an unenviable job at hand. The Juventus defender has to try and keep the Portuguese captain in check; any foul around the penalty area can spell trouble. Young full-back Achraf Hakimi will be there to lend a helping hand.
An early pace-setter in the race for the golden boot with the hattrick against Spain, Ronaldo will look to inflate his tally as long as Portugal can stay in the mix.
Ronaldo, who leads the scoring chart ahead of Harry Kane, Romelu Lukaku, Diego Costa and Denis Cheryshev, was seen enjoying a training session on Tuesday, showing off his skills at Portugal’s base in Kratovo, just outside Moscow.
His team mate Bernardo Silva, the Manchester City winger, said, “Some players are fading at his age, and that is normal. But he is not. He is getting better and better. I hope his form stays in the next few games. We have to try and give him the best conditions so that he can score more.”
There is possibility of a change in the Portuguese defence where experienced Bruno Alves might be called in for Jose Fonte. Joao Mario, who came on as a substitute against Spain, may also get a start in the midfield ahead of Bruno Fernandes.
Facing Portugal on Wednesday and Spain in their last two league games, Morocco are faced with the difficult task of snatching even one point in the group stage. The loss against Iran has realistically killed the chances of Herve Renard’s team advancing to the next round.