Portugal v Morocco: Hat-trick hero Ronaldo hunts stricken Atlas Lions
Andre Silva will relish playing with "the best in the world" Cristiano Ronaldo if he is picked to start alongside the Real Madrid star for Portugal against Morocco at the World Cup.
Portugal coach Fernando Santos opted to pair Goncalo Guedes with Ronaldo from kick-off in the thrilling 3-3 draw with Spain in Sochi, where the captain of the Euro 2016 winners netted a stunning 88th-minute free-kick to deny one of the favourites, who were reeling from the shock sacking of coach Julen Lopetegui on the eve of the tournament.
Ronaldo, 33, became the oldest scorer of a hat-trick in World Cup history and just the fourth player to find the back of the net at four different editions of the tournament.
And should Santos elevate Silva to the starting XI, the AC Milan forward knows he will be privileged to link up with one of the game's greats.
"I told you, playing next to him is a dream," he was quoted as saying by A Bola.
"I can say that [he] makes things easier, he is the best in the world. Things happen more naturally, sometimes passes that could be more difficult, he facilitates.
"We understand each other very well, it's good to play alongside him. When you need me to do something, I'm always there when I need it, too. I occupy spaces, in the movements we open spaces for each other, I hope everything goes back to this way."
Questioned about his chances of being picked, Silva said: "I do not know how to respond, this is the job of the mister [coach], he knows who plays.
"What I know is that I have given my best, everyone wants to join the XI, but we all agree on the choices of the mister."
Morocco are set to be without Nordin Amrabat due to concussion sustained in their agonising 1-0 loss to Iran, but attacking midfielder Faycal Fajr is remaining positive, despite the pain of conceding a 90th-minute own goal after dominating possession in St. Petersburg.
He said: "We cannot wait… to face Portugal, we are not dead yet, we all believe in success to make our supporters and the Moroccan people proud. We want to make our supporters happy. We lost a battle, but not the war."
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Portugal – Cristiano Ronaldo
Sometimes it's hard to remember there are 10 other players on the field making Portugal tick when Ronaldo enjoys one of his serial dates with destiny.
He may have lifted the Henri Delaunay Trophy in Paris two years ago, but after suffering a knee injury early in the final, the extraordinarily driven attacker will be determined to finally make his mark on the World Cup.
Morocco – Aziz Bouhaddouz
Just 13 unlucky minutes separated Aziz Bouhaddouz's introduction as a substitute against Iran and the calamitous headed own goal that saw his team end their opening match empty handed, despite enjoying 68 per cent of possession.
Should he be afforded a chance to make amends from kick-off or off the bench, all eyes will be on the resilience of the unfortunate St. Pauli player.
KEY OPTA STATS
- Morocco beat Portugal 3-1 in their only previous encounter, in the group stages of the 1986 World Cup. It was Morocco's first win at the tournament.
- Portugal's only defeat against African opposition at the World Cup came against Morocco in 1986 (1-3) – they've won two and drawn one of their subsequent three games against them.
- Portugal have not lost against a non-European nation at the World Cup since June 2002, when they were beaten 1-0 to South Korea (W5 D3 since).
- Portugal have lost only one of their last 10 World Cup group games (0-4 v Germany in 2014), winning five and drawing the other four.
- Morocco had 68 per cent possession in their 1-0 defeat to Iran, the most by a losing team in a World Cup match since June 2010, when Spain had 73 per cent possession against Switzerland but lost 1-0.
- Ronaldo's three goals for Portugal against Spain made him the oldest hat-trick scorer in the history of the World Cup (33y 130d). His third goal in that game was also the first time he'd scored from direct free-kick in a major international tournament, at the 45th attempt.
- Ronaldo had scored three goals from 70 shots in his previous three World Cup tournaments combined for Portugal (2006, 2010 and 2014) – at the 2018 World Cup, he has scored three goals from just four shots.