Moscow: Smarting after a last-gasp defeat to Iran, Morocco will have to deal with the peerless might of Portugal, spearheaded by Cristiano Ronaldo, who will attempt to follow up his World Cup opening game heroics when the two sides meet for a Group B clash here on Wednesday.
Five-time World Player of the Year Ronaldo grabbed a hat-rick as European champions Portugal snatched a 3-3 draw against Spain in a heavyweight showdown in Sochi. It was Ronaldo's 51st career treble, and the 51st in the tournament's history, as the Real Madrid superstar became just the fourth player to score in four World Cups. In hot form, Ronaldo will once again look to continue his magic at the Luzhniki Stadium and haul Portugal into the last 16. "I am very happy, it's a nice personal record to have, one more in my career," Ronaldo was quoted as saying. "For me the most important thing is to emphasise what the team did against one of the favourites to win this World Cup." Portugal are not widely regarded as one of the contenders despite their unlikely European success two years back. Portugal were less than impressive against Spain in the first game save Ronaldo who was the difference between the two sides. A world class free kick two minutes from full time sparked wild celebrations from the former Manchester United marksman and his team.
Coming to Morocco, they did not concede a single goal in the final qualifying round as they sealed a return to the World Cup for the first time in 20 years. Not expected to make the knockouts, their slim hopes were dented when a 95th-minute own goal by Aziz Bouhaddouz gifted Iran three points. Herve Renard's men face a monumental challenge, with games to come against Portugal and Spain. In defence, they have Medhi Benatia and Achraf Hakimi who will be wary of the threat Ronaldo possesses. Further forward, winger Nordin Amrabat has been ruled out of the clash after a clash of heads with Iran's Vahid Amiri in St Petersburg on Friday. Morocco will rely on Ajax midfielder Hakim Ziyech, who is the fulcrum of their attacking play.b Amine Harit had a very good game against Iran and he will be optimistic that his creativity will combine well with Ayoub El Kaabi. It will be just the second meeting between the two countries, after Morocco beat Portugal 3-1 in the group stage at the 1986 finals. (IANS)