The 2018 World Cup has been pockmarked thus far by a lack of quality in the final third of the pitch. Some of the results are deceptive, with single-goal margins of victory in games where one side has been utterly dominant. Some of the world’s best forwards – Neymar, Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez among them – have stuttered in the opening exchanges and failed to replicate their club form on the global stage.
Well, except for one Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese skipper has been on fire in his side’s first two games, netting a hat-trick against Spain and following this up with a fourth-minute headed winner against Morocco. Bear in mind that Colombia’s James Rodriguez won the Golden Boot at the 2014 World Cup with six goals and German Thomas Muller needed just five strikes to do the same in 2010.
The latter was his 85th strike for his country and gave him the record as Europe’s all-time leading scorer, ahead of the Hungarian great Ferenc Puskas. Only Iran’s Ali Daei, with an implausible 109 goals, has scored more on the international stage.
Ronaldo, who was sporting a fresh goatee in an apparent reference to him being the Greatest of all Time, like a fine port, seems to be getting better with age. At 33, he is showing no signs of degrading physicality or a lack of hunger and you are inclined to believe that he can continue dominating games until his late-30s, at the very least. Having propelled Portugal to the Euro championship title and now dictating matters on the pitch in Russia, the five-time Ballon d’Or-winner has proven that he is able to do just as well with his country as he continues to do with Real Madrid.
Messi, on the other hand, has thus far been unable to use his skills to fire a star-studded Argentina to continental or global glory. This will remain a sticking point when it comes to comparisons with Diego Maradona.
It was unfortunate that the first side to be eliminated from the World Cup was African. Morocco, however, can leave the tournament with their heads held high, as refereeing controversy and plain bad luck, rather than poor performances, put paid to their chances of progressing.
The North Africans were dynamic in attack and belligerent in defence, and the likes of Ajax Amsterdam star Hakim Ziyech and captain Mehdi Benatia deserve further opportunities to showcase their skills. Certainly, the Lions of Atlas appeared far superior to most other African sides in their two games. All they needed was a domineering striker to put the ball away when it mattered.
READ MORE: World Cup 2018: Upsets the order of the day
Still, the show must go on. There are three exciting clashes on the cards today, with Australia battling Denmark in what should be an even contest and Peru lining up against France. In the late kick-off, Messi’s Argentina look to put the disappointment of their opening-game draw with Iceland behind them when they face Croatia in a powder-keg encounter.