Seemingly, brilliantly bloody single-mindedly, Cristiano Ronaldo wants to the make the 2018 World Cup all about him.
He has previous. Every Uefa Champions League for the past few years. The 2016 European Championship, when he was injured in the final but transformed into a second manager on the touchline, coaxing Portugal to a first international title.
All that remains outstanding, then, on his outlandishly swollen CV is football’s greatest team prize. He’s got all the coveted club ones; all the individual accolades, too.
So on Wednesday Ronaldo followed Friday's incredible hat-trick against Spain with the only goal of the game against Morocco. Having completed his treble last week in the deciding, dying few moments in Sochi, earning his team a crucial opening draw, Portugal's captain fantastic took all of four minutes in Moscow to notch his fourth of the tournament.
A short corner was rolled to Joao Moutinho, who found his colleague far too easily. Ronaldo, you know, did the rest: thumped a header into the back of the Morocco net.
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Denis Cheryshev, Russia’s standout thus far, had the temerity on Tuesday night to climb alongside Ronaldo at the head of an albeit embryonic race for the Golden Boot. The following day, Ronaldo vaulted out on his own. Forget the Champions League, how about the “CR7 World Cup” instead?
Not that everyone basks in Ronaldo’s reflected glory. Midway through the first half, when he had been dumped on the turf by Noureddine Amrabat and promptly rolled around a little clutching his ankle, the Luzhniki Stadium filled to the sound of Morocco fans chanting “Messi, Messi”. It happened later when Ronaldo drilled a shot high over the crossbar when well placed. Poor guy just can’t catch a break.
Presumably, that sort of thing matters to Ronaldo, although it should not. He has an international trophy, he is lighting up this tournament despite being now in his 34rd year, despite representing in theory an inferior team to Argentina.
His header against Morocco lifted him to a scarcely believable 85 international goals. He strutted past Ferenc Puskas, now perched proudly as the most prolific European in international football. Of all-time.
Narrowing the focus, there are four goals from two matches. With Iran to come next Monday, it’s difficult to imagine he won’t add to that tally. Ruthless Ronnie: deadly, dependable. Destined for that final piece of the trophy jigsaw?
Yet he cannot do it all on his own, no matter how many times he suggests he can. There are able teammates, like when Goncalo Guedes almost scored late in the first half once Ronaldo set him free with a lovely ball over the top. Munir Mohamedi, the Morocco goalkeeper, did well to repel him.
There was also a little help from Moroccan and former Al Jazira midfielder Mbark Boussoufa, who couldn’t flick a first-half header on target. A decent bit, as well, from Portuguese goalkeeper Rui Patricio, who did brilliantly to keep out Younes Belhanda’s powerful header from a corner just after the hour.
And a sizeable chunk from Morocco captain Mehdi Benatia, who missed three real chances. First, he found space in the Portugal penalty area, but leaned back and laced over from 12 yards. Ronaldo threw out his arms in frustration at the space Benatia was afforded. With 12 minutes remaining, Benatia again missed the target when well placed. In Injury-time, he swung his left boot at the ball not far from Portugal's goal, but it was high and wide.
At that stage, and for most of the second half, Morocco were purring, the North Africans at times as dashing on the pitch as manager Herve Renard is off it. However, as much as they huffed and puffed, a second successive defeat consigned them to a group exit.
Ronaldo, hardly dominant but again decisive, made sure of that. He made sure the 2018 World Cup continues to bounce to his beat.
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