Portugal 1-0 Morocco

An early Cristiano Ronaldo goal has placed Portugal on the brink of group stage qualification, as the Euro 2016 champions were made to sweat for a 1-0 victory over Morocco at the Luzhniki Stadium.

The Real Madrid star took his tally to four goals for the tournament with a well-executed diving header in the 4th minute, but it was Morocco who enjoyed the larger portion of possession and chances created throughout the encounter.

With Rui Patrício starring, the Selecção were able to hold onto their slender advantage come full-time, placing them top of Group B momentarily ahead of Spain's clash against Iran, as Morocco face a World Cup exit.

After much deliberation over Bernardo Silva's and Gonçalo Guedes' inclusion in the Portugal starting XI, Fernando Santos opted to make just one change to the side that drew 3-3 versus Spain, as João Mário replaced Bruno Fernandes in midfield.

For Morocco, Nabil Dirar's return provided Herve Renard's team a big boost at the back, with the well-traveled French manager also finding some space for former Nacional da Madeira defender Manuel da Costa to slot in, partnering Medhi Benatia.

Big Start

The African nation started brightly but Portugal were able to offer the perfect response as early as the 4th minute, as Ronaldo lost his marker inside the box to fire the 'Selecção' a goal up with a diving header, courtesy of João Moutinho's delivery from a short corner.

Ronaldo threatened Morocco's goal once more with a shot scuffed wide in the 8th minute before the danger beamed back at the other end, with Portugal requiring Rui Patrício to hit the deck in order to deny Benatia's back-post header.

The Moroccans grew off the back of their opportunity to dominate spells of the first half but could offer little cutting edge where it truly mattered, as Portugal held onto their 1-0 lead.

Guedes could've eased the strain on Portugal's backline with a second goal in the 40th minute, fed through by Ronaldo's ball over the top, but the Paris Saint-Germain winger wouldn't find a way past Munir Mohamedi on the half-volley.

Morocco came knocking again on the brink of half-time, following Hakim Ziyech's whipped free-kick, as Younes Belhanda's glancing header roamed past the far post and the emerging Manuel da Costa before the interval.

From the restart, Santos' men had the chance to inflict damage upon their opponents early in the 50th minute, with João Mário laying Guedes off from the by-line prior to the ex-Benfica man skewing his shot into Ronaldo's path, who'd also get his measurements all wrong to fire the ball way over the bar.

Morocco ramp up the pressure

Only a world-class save from Patrício stood between Morocco and an equaliser in the 57th minute, with Belhanda again causing all the problems from a set-piece when directing a header at goal, pushed away by the new Wolverhampton Wanderes man. Benatia was next in line to try his luck up against the Portugal number one, lashing a volley over instead on the hour-mark

Set-pieces proved to be Morocco's favourite route to goal, as Benatia looked to cause a spot of bother in the 78th minute, but his attempt from Ziyech's free kick, coming off his shoulder rather than his head, would let Portugal off the hook after going wide at the near-post.

A final half-chance fell Morocco's way in stoppage time, with Renard's side again riding on a Benatia finish prior to the Juventus man blowing his shot over the bar, as Portugal cemented a hard-earned 1-0 win in Moscow.

By Patrick Ribeiro

Portugal: Rui Patrício - Cedric Soares, Pepe, José Fonte, Raphaël Guerreiro - Bernardo Silva (Gelson Martins, 59'), João Moutinho (Adrien Silva, , William Carvalho, João Mário (Bruno Fernandes, 69'), Gonçalo Guedes - Cristiano Ronaldo

Morocco: Munir Mohamedi - Nabil Dirar, Medhi Benatia, Manuel da Costa, Achraf Hakimi - Nordin Amrabat, Younes Belhanda (Medhi Carcela, 75'), Karim El Ahmad (Fayça lFajr, 86'), Mbark Boussoufa, Hakim Ziyech - Khalid Boutaïb (Ayoub El Kaabi, 69')


[1-0] - Ronaldo (4')