European champions Portugal were let off the hook by Morocco’s wasteful finishing and another Cristiano Ronaldo moment as they notched up a fortuitous victory in the World Cup on Wednesday.
Portugal’s 1-0 win put them in a strong position to qualify from Group B with four points and meant Morocco became the first side to be knocked out of the tournament, yet the reactions of the respective coaches suggested a different result.
It was Portugal’s Fernando Santos who was left frustrated while his opposite number Herve Renard spoke of his pride in his side’s efforts.
Santos has rarely appeared so angry at his own players after a game, describing their performance as “inexplicable”, and it was easy to understand his reaction.
“In a match against a team like this, against the sort of players they have, if you don’t have the ball, they wear you down and you get into trouble,” he said.
On the other hand, Renard said: “I’m very proud of the performance and I am very proud of my players. I’m very proud of this country. Now in football, there are things you can’t do.”
After snatching a fourth-minute lead almost inevitably through Ronaldo, who took his tally to 85 goals in 152 international appearances, Portugal were swept aside as Morocco took control of the midfield.
The North Africans repeatedly got behind the Portugal defence as their midfield triangle of Younes Belhanda, Karim El Ahmadi and Mbark Boussoufa combined neatly to release Nourreddine Amrabat and Hakim Ziyach on the flanks.
In particular, Portugal’s left back Raphael Guerreiro was given a torrid down as he was beaten time and again by Amrabat, who spent last season on loan at Spanish club Leganes from Watford.
But, although Morocco kept getting behind the defence, the final pass was infuriatingly lacking and Portugal’s central defensive pairing of Pepe and Jose Fonte, with a combined age of 69, were always in the right place to clear the danger.
Even when Morocco managed to get a shot in, they found goalkeeper Rui Patricio in superb form.
Ronaldo himself had a mixed afternoon.
Although he scored the goal to follow up his hat-trick in the 3-3 draw with Spain, he wasted two free kicks on the edge of the area and shot high and wide from another good position.
A niggly match, in which numerous decisions brought protests from the players, also raised questions about whether referees are too lenient on repetitive fouls, as they were at the World Cup in Brazil four years ago.
Although the match was punctuated by 42 fouls, referee Mark Geiger showed only two yellow cards, meaning that repetitive midfield fouling went unpunished.
By Brian Homewood