Ronaldo eyes World Cup quarters as Morocco dare to dream
Cristiano Ronaldo will aim to fire Portugal past Switzerland and into the World Cup quarter-finals on Tuesday as Morocco bids to derail Spain’s bid for a second global crown.
Just two last-eight slots remain to be filled in Qatar after five-time winners Brazil swatted aside South Korea 4-1 and 2018 finalists Croatia squeezed past Japan via a penalty shoot-out.
Ronaldo was hogging the headlines at the tournament even before he kicked a ball after launching a tirade against Manchester United and their manager Erik ten Hag.
Following an exit by “mutual agreement,” he is now seeking a new team, with sources saying he is in talks over a blockbuster deal with Saudi club Al-Nassr.
The 37-year-old superstar forward, who is appearing in what is almost certainly his last World Cup, has been a shadow of his former self in Qatar despite all the hype.
After scoring a penalty in his team’s opening clash against Ghana to become the first player to score at five World Cups, he has huffed and puffed but has failed to find the net again.
Ronaldo’s starring role in the team remains a hot topic among Portugal fans, but coach Fernando Santos said he was not paying attention to the raging debate.
“I do not read this type of material,” he said. “It is not a lack of respect, it is simply that we have three days to train for a game and I am not looking at other kinds of news. We focus on the upcoming match.”
Santos said he expected a close contest against Switzerland. Portugal beat the Swiss 4-0 in the UEFA Nations League in June before losing 1-0 in the reverse fixture.
– African hopes –
Morocco are the sole remaining team from Africa, and the only Arab team left in Qatar.
Coach Walid Regragui has urged his men to believe they can defeat powerhouse Spain as they attempt to reach the World Cup quarter-finals for the first time in their history.
Morocco would become just the fourth African team to reach the last eight — after Cameroon in 1990, Senegal in 2002 and Ghana in 2010 — if they beat the 2010 champions.
“We’ll come out swinging,” said Regragui. “We want to hoist the Moroccan flag way up high. We’re playing first and foremost for us and our country.
“All Arabs and Africans, we want to make them happy. We want their prayers and we want their support so it can give us that extra ingredient to win. Before it was just the Moroccans that supported us.”
Spain started the tournament with a swagger, smashing seven goals past Costa Rica before a draw with Germany and a defeat against South Korea.
Coach Luis Enrique said he set each of his players the “homework” of practising 1,000 penalties ahead of the World Cup, saying he is convinced they are not a lottery.
On Monday, Brazil and Croatia became the latest sides to secure quarter-final berths.
Brazil, chasing a record-extending sixth title, romped past South Korea. They were 4-0 up by half-time with their players — and coach Tite — joining in the goal celebrations with well-rehearsed dance moves.
Those joyous scenes were not to everyone’s liking, however, with some former players complaining that it showed a level of “disrespect” to their opponents.
“I just can’t believe what I’m watching, I really can’t,” said former Manchester United and Ireland captain Roy Keane on British television.
“I don’t like this, I think it’s really disrespecting the opposition.”
Brazil coach Tite brushed off the criticism.
“There are always spiteful people who will understand it as disrespect,” he said.
Brazil will face Croatia in the last eight. Croatia advanced to the quarter-finals after defeating Japan 3-1 on penalties.
In Friday’s other quarter-final, the Netherlands take on Argentina. England plays France on Saturday.