Russia Review: Day Seven

We didn’t quite see the goal-fest of previous days, but this afternoon’s hat-trick of 1-0’s saw three teams pack their bags ahead of flights home, two teams book their place in the last 16 and a thrilling group which is set to go down to the wire.

This is Day Seven of Russia 2018.

Plucky Portugal plant one foot in last 16

​A Cristiano Ronaldo header inside four minutes was enough to see Portugal to victory against a Morocco side who will feel the result was extremely harsh.

Despite Portugal gaining maximum points, Morocco went toe-to-toe with the European Champions all afternoon, but ultimately failed to find an equaliser.

This means that the African side crash out of the World Cup, becoming the first side to be officially eliminated from the tournament. The Moroccan fans will feel regret, as if luck was on their side they may still be in the running in Group B.

For the second time in as many games, Ronaldo fired his team ahead inside the opening five minutes. This time it was from a header, when he wriggled free of his marker to get on the end of a Joao Moutinho cross.

The goal comes as Ronaldo’s 85th in international football, which is a European record. It also puts him top of the race for the golden boot on four goals.

With Morocco tipped pre-match to sit back and absorb pressure, the game plan went out of the window very early. The majority of neutrals would have expected it to be one way traffic from here, with Portugal naturally having space to exploit in the Moroccan defence.

This was not the case, as Hervé Renard’s side put the Portuguese under immense pressure and had the better of the chances in the first half after Ronaldo’s goal.

Morocco peppered the goal of Rui Patricio for the majority of the first half, with Boutaib and Ziyech coming close on a couple of occasions. Despite this, Portugal headed in at half time with their one goal lead intact.

The best chance of the second half fell to Morocco, when Younès Belhanda forced a top save from Patricio. The Wolves-bound goalkeeper dived low with expert reflexes to deny Morocco.

In fact, the Portugal goalkeeper will be noted as a contender for man of the match, as his heroics denied Renard’s side on more than one occasion.

As the game ticked on, the Portuguese looked nervous, gifting possession to Morocco on many occasions and looking shaky in defending crosses.

Pepe made an extremely important block for Portugal with minutes on the clock – this was coupled with a Benatia miss from a header that gave many the sense it wasn’t going to be Morocco’s afternoon.

From here, Portugal saw the game out without too much exertion, keeping the ball away from their opposition in the Morocco half.

Ultimately, it was wastefulness in the second half that cost a Morocco side who will feel extremely hard done by to lose.

Unconvincing Uruguay through thanks to Suarez goal

Uruguay booked their place in the knockout rounds of the 2018 World Cup with victory over a poor Saudi Arabia side.

A Luis Suarez goal was ultimately the winner on what was a relatively uneventful afternoon of football.

Uruguay, who scored a late goal in their opener against Egypt, were not overly convincing again as they faced Saudi Arabia in Rostov.

In fairness, their opponents started the game well and looked assured in possession, but failed to create many chances at all.

The Uruguayan breakthrough came through talismanic striker Luis Suarez, who has now scored in three consecutive World Cups.

A Carlos Sanchez corner was poorly dealt with by the Asian side, as Suarez wriggled free of his marker to easily caress the ball into the net with his instep.

Manager Juan Antonio Pizzi will have been pleased with the improvement in his side since their embarrassment against the hosts on opening night, but the scoreline could have been worse here had Uruguay’s Edinson Cavani been more ruthless in front of goal.

The PSG hitman deflected a Lucas Torreira effort just wide, and then had the chance to seal the points late on as he ran through a light defence, before his shot was well saved by Saudi keeper Mohammed Al-Owais.

As well as sending Uruguay through, the result also eliminated the Asians and Egypt, after their defeat at the hands of Russia last night, who themselves progress.

Uruguay remain second in Group A behind the hosts on goal difference after their second 1-0 win. The two meet in Samara next week in a winner-takes-all match to determine who will top the group and set up a Round of 16 clash with the runners-up of Group B – either Spain, Portugal or Iran.

Spain survive Iran scare

Dominant Spain recorded their first World Cup win of 2018 against fighting Iran, who themselves were left frustrated after having a goal disallowed for offside.

Fernando Hierro’s Spaniards go joint-top of Group B with Portugal after Diego Costa’s third goal of the tournament gave them a narrow 1-0 victory, but they had quite a scare against an Iran side looking to reach the knockout stages for the first time.

The opening 45 minutes was very much operation ‘Park the Bus’ for the Iranians, and they stuck to their task; completing it brilliantly.

Spain were restricted to very few clear-cut chances despite going into the break with 81% of the possession. They failed to test goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand from a couple of free-kicks hit by Sergio Ramos and David Silva, and the latter then saw an acrobatic effort loop harmlessly over the bar after an un-Spanish like scrappy build-up.

The half-time whistle was greeted by loud cheers from the Iranian supporters who had been making tremendous noise during the first period, but would their optimism be crushed in the second with their heroes expected to run out of steam?

In a word, yes, as Spain came rushing out of the blocks.

Five minutes in, Gerard Pique was unlucky not to divert in a deflected corner, before Sergio Busquets then saw a long-range effort brilliantly saved by Beiranvand seconds later.

Half of the Kazan crowd thought Iran had taken the lead shortly after, but it turned out Karim Ansarifard had rifled his half volley into the wrong side of David De Gea’s net, and just moments later, Spain had their breakthrough – albeit coming in fortuitous fashion.

Costa had the ball fizzed into his feet in the area, and after full-back Ramin Rezaeian went in for a challenge, the ball ricocheted off the striker and found its way into the back of the net.

Iran needed a response to restore parity, and almost got it just after the hour.

Saeid Ezzatollahi thought he’d equalised after hammering home a knock-down from a free-kick which sparked remarkable scenes on the pitch and in the stands, but the linesman had already flagged for offside, and the routine VAR check ruled Ezzatollahi was marginally beyond the last Spanish defender.

Carlos Queiroz’ men then went close again on a number of occasions late on in their hunt for a point that would have sent seismic shocks throughout Russia.

First, Vahid Amiri saw a teasing cross just elude his outstretched leg, and then with less than ten minutes to go, he nutmegged Pique before delivering a ball for Mehdi Taremi who headed over.

The 2010 champions had a couple of opportunities themselves to close the game out, but ultimately neither side could find that crucial second goal, meaning it’s all to play for on the final day of Group B as three proud nations do battle for two spots in the knockout stages.

Player of the Day – Rui Patricio (Portugal)

In a tournament that has seen goals aplenty, and on a day where attacking superstars such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani were on display, you’d be forgiven for thinking there’d be no chance that a defensive player would be the one to steal Thursday morning’s headlines.

But that was exactly what happened – with just three goals scored on a roasting hot day in Russia, it was time for defenders and goalkeepers alike to take the limelight, and nobody took that opportunity more so than Portugal’s Rui Patricio.

The 30-year-old is one of many Sporting Lisbon to terminate their contract in light of supporter-instigated violence at the club’s training ground, and he has subsequently signed a contract with newly promoted English side Wolverhampton Wanderers.

And fans of his new club will have been loving what they saw from the goalkeeper this afternoon.

Morocco may be going home early with no points from their opening two games, but it hasn’t been for the want of trying, having arguably been the better side in both matches.

Today, they fearlessly attacked a resilient Portugal side, and on another day could have taken the points themselves, but Patricio was not letting that happen.

Despite the Moroccans having twice as many shots on target as their opponents, they failed to score, largely thanks to the goalkeeping of the new Wolves man. Patricio made a number of splendid saves, including one that is already being talked about as a contender for best of the tournament.

A dangerously whipped free-kick was glanced towards goal by the impressive Younes Belhanda, but the acrobatic Patricio got down quick and low, forcing it over the bar brilliantly with a strong right hand – not quite, but almost reminiscent of THAT Gordon Banks save in 1970.

Portugal are an organised, well-oiled machine these days, and much of that is due to a solid spine. The centre half pairing of Pepe and Jose Fonte are complemented well by the vocal Patricio, who instills confidence into those protecting his goal.

It is these attributes that will excite fans in the West Midlands, and ones that Portuguese fans will certainly be thankful for this evening, as they go to within a point of the last 16.

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