Here’s what happened on Wednesday, in case you missed it…
Portugal 1, Morocco 0 in Moscow: Match report || match stats
Uruguay 1, Saudi Arabia 0 in Rostov: Match report || match stats
Iran 0, Spain 1 in Kazan: Match report || match stats
MAIN TALKING POINTS
A cruel fate for Morocco
Cristiano Ronaldo scored his tournament-leading fourth goal of this World Cup, and he now has 85 in service for his country, more than any other European player in history. Ronaldo’s header off a free kick was enough for Portugal to collect its first win in Russia, a result that meant Morocco became the first nation to be officially eliminated at this World Cup.
Spare a thought for the North Africans. They’ve been brilliant in this competition, and they were the better side on the balance of play on Wednesday, putting Portugal under constant pressure with their smart movement with and without the ball. Their probing attacks down the wings, especially through Noureddine Amrabat, gave the Portuguese all they could handle. Morocco’s buildup play was excellent. Its finishing wasn’t. They’re going home because they don’t have a proven goal-scorer up front.
This has to be bitter pill for Morocco, who not only outplayed Portugal, but also lost 1-0 to Iran courtesy of a late own-goal. Morocco is much better than their 0-2 record suggests – they’ve distinguished themselves with their bright attacking play and commitment to getting forward. They deserve to stick around, but it can be a cruel game sometimes.
As for Portugal, you have to wonder how long they can continue like this. Ronaldo has accounted for all four of the team’s goals at this tournament, putting his country on his shoulders in what have turned out to be two tight contests. At some point, others have to step up and relieve some of the goal-scoring burden the Real Madrid star is carrying on his shoulders if Portugal has any hopes of going far in Russia.
Uruguay grinds it out
Uruguay booked its spot in the second round following a 1-0 win over Saudi Arabia, a result that also meant Russia moved on. Russia and Uruguay are the first two teams at this World Cup to advance to the knockout round. While the host nation has dazzled with its goal-scoring prowess (eight goals in total thus far), Uruguay has taken a different path to the knockout stage of the competition.
A pair of 1-0 wins sees Uruguay go into the final match of the first round tied with Russia for first place in Group B. The South Americans are known for being tight at the back, with five consecutive clean sheets and eight in their last 11 international contests. It hasn’t been pretty at times from Uruguay. Luis Suarez scored the lone goal against the Saudis, but he was pretty quiet on the day, as was fellow star striker Edinson Cavani.
But this is typical Uruguay: They grind it out, focus on keeping things tight at the back and find a way to win. Led by the dynamic central defensive pairing of Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez, Uruguay limited the Saudis to just eight shots with only two on target. Perhaps more than any other national team in international soccer, Uruguay has mastered the art of game and tournament management, and we’re seeing it in full force from the South Americans in Russia.
Spain keeps its cool vs. Iran
It had to have been incredibly frustrating for the Spanish players to go back to the dressing room after the whistle blew to end the opening 45 minutes of their Group B game against Iran. The halftime stats tell you all you need to know about how much La Roja dominated: 81 per cent possession (81!), and 352 completed passes (compared to just 49 for Iran).
But for all its statistical domination, Spain headed into the break tied at 0-0, managing just one shot on target, as they were unable to break through Iran’s compact and well-organized defensive shape. Try as they did over and over, Spain couldn’t get in behind Iran, who at times defended with six players across the back and three more just in front of them in support. Never mind parking the bus, Iran parked an entire convoy at the edge of its penalty area in an attempt to thwart their attack-minded opponents.
Spanish patience and persistence paid off in the end, though. Diego Costa bagged his third goal of the tournament early in the second half, receiving the ball at the top of the area and then turning as he unleashed a shot. He didn’t hit the ball cleanly, but it ricocheted off an Iranian defender and found its way into the back of the net.
Spain is often criticized for not having a “Plan B,” for not straying from their pass-and-move, possession-based game when it’s not proving fruitful. This isn’t a weakness, but rather a strength. Spain has complete confidence in the way it plays, and feels it’s only a matter of time before they break their opponents down. Patience is the key. The Spaniards showed an abundance of it against Iran, and were rewarded for their efforts.
The late match in Kazan pitted one of the best attacking teams in the international game against one of the stingiest. It was a fascinating tactical battle between two countries with vastly different playing styles, and for more than half of the contest, the question lingered: Would Spain finally be able to break down Iran? They did, but it took some time.
In the fourth minute, Cristiano Ronaldo gave his Moroccan marker the slip inside a congested penalty area and connected on a low header to score his fourth goal of this World Cup.
In the 57th minute, Morocco’s Hakim Ziyech swung a cross deep into the box to teammate Younes Belhanda who connected on a header, but Portuguese goalkeeper Rui Patricio did well to get down and put a hand to it, knocking it out for a corner kick.
Canadian assistant referee Joe Fletcher worked the Portugal vs. Morocco match in Moscow. Fletcher is a 41-year-old accountant from St. Catharines, Ont., and he is working his second World Cup. Nice to see some Canadian content at this tournament.
THE GAME WITHIN THE GAME
Jose Fonte’s reputation has taken a beating over the past few years, and his departure from West Ham United to play in the Chinese League didn’t quell his many detractors. But the central defender was on top of his game on Wednesday, helping Portugal withstand wave after wave of attacking play from a rampant Morocco side to earn a vital three points.
Source: Sports Net