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Wednesday, February 8, 2023

World Cup hits and misses: Cristiano Ronaldo’s replacement Goncalo Ramos shines on beautiful day for Morocco’s Yassine Bono |

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Portugal flourish without Ronaldo

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Goncalo Ramos is mobbed by his team-mates after scoring for Portugal

A free-kick was won and the ball dutifully tossed to Cristiano Ronaldo. The crowd had chanted for his introduction and cheered wildly when it came. Here he was over the ball, that theatrical stance. The shot hit the wall. Play could resume.

It was an illuminating passage of play in its own way, coming as it did with his team 4-1 up. The game had been won in – maybe even because of – his absence. The contrast between the Ronaldo show and the Portugal show that preceded it was striking.

Replaced by Goncalo Ramos, ostensibly as a result of his response to being substituted against South Korea, what followed was a reminder that there are other talents in this squad. Talents that showed against Switzerland that they could shine given the chance.

Of course, Portugal succeeding without Ronaldo is nothing new. The most famous victory in the country’s history came in the final of Euro 2016 following his early injury. But that was stoicism. This was something else. This was a thrashing. This was a team unleashed.

Cristiano Ronaldo reacts after having an effort ruled out for offside
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Cristiano Ronaldo reacts after having an effort ruled out for offside

Even so, nobody, not even Fernando Santos with all that he has seen in the game, could have anticipated what followed. The first hat-trick of the tournament. The country’s biggest win of the knockout stages. World Cup hopes not just alive but revitalised, resurgent.

It was Ramos’ day but maybe it could yet be Portugal’s tournament. As the world’s media looked to the bench, Ronaldo still owned the camera but Joao Felix owned the football. Alongside Bruno Fernandes, they relished Ramos’ movement ahead of them.

There was still time for Ronaldo to crash the ball into the net from an offside position, a glimpse of the finishing ability that has not left him. But when Rafael Leao added the sixth, the message could not have been clearer. This show will go on without him.
Adam Bate

Bono brilliance but Amrabat embodies collective spirit

Morocco players celebrate their shootout win
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Morocco players celebrate their shootout win

Spain’s penalty curse continues to plague them, but Morocco made a mockery of their unfancied status. The Atlas Lions arrived at the shootout with their own monkey on their back having lost all four of their previous penalty showdowns, the most recent being against Algeria in last year’s Arab Cup.

But thanks to Bono’s brilliance they would become just the fourth African side to reach the quarter-final of a World Cup after Cameroon in 1990, Senegal in 2002 and Ghana in 2010.

Bono, who missed a group game just before kick-off against Belgium through illness, was lifted to the heavens after his heroics and Walid Regragui has Morocco reaching for the sky.

The first African man to lead a side to the last eight, and this was a collective effort. Sofyan Amrabat covered every blade of grass and is primed to be included in the team of the tournament.

Morocco's coach Walid Regragui is thrown in the air
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Morocco’s coach Walid Regragui is thrown in the air

Back in the summer, Morocco looked in disarray after a heavy friendly defeat to USA, but just one goal conceded in the seven games since he took charge has led to history being made.

For the first time, they can look forward to a quarter-final appearance at the World Cup. There was a jig and bumps for Regragui that even Roy Keane would have welcomed.

Spain had been suffocated by the whistles during the shootout. Sergio Busquets won the toss and chose the end, but it really didn’t matter. The Spaniards were outnumbered at the Education City Stadium, and Madrid-born Achraf Hakimi schooled Unai Simon from the spot to spark joyous scenes.

Bono, the man who has spent almost his entire senior career playing in Spain, will head back to Sevilla in the coming weeks. A pariah in his own parish but a king in Casablanca. Football is a funny old game.
Ben Grounds

Spain stumble from the spot again

Spain players show their disappointment after losing on penalties to Morocco
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Spain players show their disappointment after losing on penalties to Morocco

“Over a year ago, in many national camps we told players, ‘You have homework ahead of the World Cup. You must take at least 1,000 penalties with the club’. You can’t just train them when they’re with the national team’.”

Luis Enrique knew Spain would have to hold their nerve at the World Cup long before they arrived in Qatar. When the moment came, they stumbled again.

Spain have become the first nation in the tournament’s history to lose four penalty shoutouts. They crashed out to Italy in the Euro semi-finals last year and went stunned by Russia on spot kicks at the 2018 World Cup.

Morocco keeper Yassine Bounou saves Carlos Soler's penalty
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Morocco keeper Yassine Bono saves Carlos Soler’s penalty

“I don’t think it’s a lottery. If you train often, then the way you take penalties improves. Obviously, you can’t train the pressure and tension, but you can cope with it,” Enrique said 24 hours before their latest penalty heartache.

Back to the training ground.
David Richardson

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