Cristiano Ronaldo did just enough to get Portugal its first win of the World Cup. (Tim Groothuis/Witters Sport via USA TODAY Sports)

By Michael Lewis Editor

The theme of Wednesday’s World Cup action was simple and to the points:

That would be 1-0 victories as all three winners earned three points apiece.

It was a rare group stage day in which all three games finished with the same exact score:

Portugal 1, Morocco 0

Uruguay 1, Saudi Arabia 0

Spain 1, Iran 0

And two of the three games were decided by corner-kick conversions — wins by Portugal and Uruguay. Spain had the actual audacity to score from the run of play.

While it all looks neat on paper, each game had its own ebb and flow as the winners scored and survived close calls to survive, and in some instances to set themselves up to play another day in the Round of 16.

Portugal 1, Morocco 0

Is it possible to score too early in a match? Perhaps putting a goal on the board takes the fight out of a team, its players thinking that it would be an easy game. It happened to the U.S. in a World Cup qualifier in Jamaica in 2012. Clint Dempsey tallied in the opening minute only to have the Americans fall, 2-1.

Case in point: the Portuguese. Cristiano Ronaldo tallied four minutes into this Group B match, heading home a corner kick for his fourth goal in two games. Many spectators might have been poised for a goal-fest. Instead, the European side struggled for a good portion of the match.

Of course, Morocco had something to do with that, playing the Portuguese tough, winning a majority of the 50-50 balls at midfield.

It’s been a difficult month for the Moroccans, who actually have suffered three defeats in the past eight days. They dropped a 1-0 decision to Iran in their WC opener June 15, two days after losing in their bid to host the 2026 World Cup.

Ronaldo scored his 85th international goal, as he became the the all-time European leader in that category, surpassing the legendary Ferenc Puskas (Hungary). According to Opta stats, he become the first Portuguese player since Jose Torres (1966) to score a goal with his right foot, left foot and head in a WC. He also was the first player to score five consecutive World Cup goals for his country since Russia’s Oleg Salenko turned the trick in 1994.

The good news for Portugal is that CR7 has four goals, the bad news is that no one else has found the net. No team has gone deep in tournament without several players scoring. Yes, there is a first time for everything, but the degree of difficulty will get more severe in the knockout round.

Uruguay 1, Saudi Arabia 0

After getting run out of Luzhniki Stadium by Russia, 5-0, in the inaugural match of the cup last Thursday, the Saudis put on a better show and fight against the South American side.

But alas, it wasn’t good enough.

Luis Suarez tallied in the 23rd minute in his 100th international appearance off a corner kick as his teammates made sure the goal stood up to book a spot in the Round of 16, taking undefeated Russia along with them.

Uruguay and Russia will meet in Samara Monday to determine which team tops Group A. A draw will put the hosts through thanks it has superior goal differential, thanks to its huge win over the Saudis. The South American side needs a win in what should be the first real test for the home team in the tournament.

Spain 1, Iran 0

The Spaniards love to pass the ball around. They had something like between 700-800 passes in their win while enjoying a sizable possession advantage. It is the best way to play defense because your opponent doesn’t have the ball.

But there is one slight setback to this strategy. If you don’t have the finishers up front to translate the possession into goals, games can be much tighter.

If Spain’s shooting efficiency could come in line with its passing efficiency, the team would be a difficult side with which to deal. The Spaniards are still lacking a world class striker up front, despite a fabulous midfield. Assuming Spain survives the group, you have to wonder how far the 2010 World Cup champions advance given that liability.

Perhaps Atletico Madrid forward Diego Costa will provide the tonic in this World Cup.

Spain finally solved Iran’s well-organized backline after a frustrating first half as Costa struck for his third goal in two matches in the 54th minute. Andres Iniesta passed to Costa, who fired a shot that deflected off Iran’s Ramin Rezeian and into the net. Maybe not a highlight reel goal, but it was the real thing for the Europeans.

The Iranians put up a brave fight and thought they had equalized in the 63rd minute after Saeid Ezatolahi put the ball into the net, followed by a wild celebration. But thanks to Video Assistant Referee, the goal was nullified — offside.

Because of VAR, this certainly won’t be the last time we see a team celebrate a goal, only to have their hearts broken a couple of minutes later. Welcome to the new age of techno-soccer. The genie is out of the bottle and he ain’t going back in, like it or not.

Front Row Soccer editor Michael Lewis has covered 13 World Cups (eight men, five women), seven Olympics and 25 MLS Cups. He has written about New York City FC, New York Cosmos, the New York Red Bulls and both U.S. national teams for Newsday and has penned a soccer history column for the Lewis, who has been honored by the Press Club of Long Island and National Soccer Coaches Association of America, is the former editor of He has written seven books about the beautiful game and has published ALIVE AND KICKING The incredible but true story of the Rochester Lancers. It is available at