Meanwhile in Moscow: Ronaldo Strikes Hard, Spain Fight Back

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Feature Photo: AP Photo/Francisco Seco
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Cristiano Ronaldo and Spain set the World Cup on fire last night as they staged a spectacular 3-3 tie in the opening match of Pool B of the World Cup. CR7 brought Portugal ahead twice, but in both cases Diego Costa made it even, before Nacho could give Spain an unexpected lead. It took a free kick by Real Madrid’s star to equalise again, and wrap up an unforgettable match in Sochi.

Those who were expecting Spain to pay a toll for the earthquake that shook their chain of command, with the firing of coach Julen Lopetegui two days ago, were surprised to see La Roja alive and kicking – showing a good mix of experience and young impetuosity. On the other hand, Portugal proved to be all in their global star, and to have little more to show – even if a Cristiano Ronaldo in that shape could basically win the World Cup playing alone.

Indeed, the chance for the first goal was kindly offered him by Italian referee Gianluca Rocchi, who sanctioned with a penalty a slight contact in the box between CR7 and Nacho Fernàndez. The Portuguese ace converted from the penalty spot, becoming the first Lusitan player to score in four different World Cup editions – and showing pretty good diving skills, as it took some good suspension of disbelief efforts to see a foul in the Spanish defender’s intervention…

Only four minutes had passed, and with Spain surprisingly failing to react – keeping the match pace low, and getting mixed up into a slow-motion tiki taka – the impression was that the incumbent European champions of Portugal were on the right track to make full score.

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Cristiano Ronaldo was the absolute star of the night, but also Diego Costa shone as he helped Spain coming from behind twice with a fantastic brace (Photo: APT/PTI)

But then, in the 24th minute, Diego Costa literally invented a goal out of nowhere. The Brazilian naturalized striker caught a long-range pass, and forced his way through four Spanish defenders, before delivering a brutal quick shot that left no chance to Rui Patricio. Portugal protested over an alleged foul on Pepe, but the former Real Madrid defender fell quite easily on Diego Costa’s charge. Rocchi allowed the goal without even consulting the VAR – and this time, he was probably right.

The equaliser shook up the Furias Rojas – actually wearing a dull white jersey tonight – who continued to charge, and made Rui Patricio’s woodwork rattle with a terrific shot by Isco. The ball bounced right on the goal line, before the action was stopped due to an offside position.

But it was again Ronaldo to turn the tables, making the best out of an assist by a fleeting Goncalo Guedes. His shot was an average one to tell the truth, but even the simplest of chances would turn into gold in CR7’s hands (and feet…) these days. Or maybe they just have a disruptive effect on the opponents – otherwise it would be difficult to explain David De Gea’s sudden blackout, as he let the ball slip past him to deliver an unexpected 1-2 to Portugal just before half time.

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Ouch! David De Gea, what a blunder! A bad night for Manchester United’s goalkeeper, whose concentration didn’t benefit from transfer market rumors putting him close to Real Madrid…

Still, Spain seemed to be living another one of their endless lives, and they were quick to bring the match back in balance: In the 56th minute, free kick by David Silva, flank play by Sergio Busquets from the right side for Diego Costa, and easy tap in for Chelsea’s striker – who took advantage of a badly placed Portuguese defense. Not bad, for a match that had started slow, but was now becoming a scorcher.

Two minutes later, the Spanish side put their head ahead for the first time, with Nacho pouncing on a cleared ball, and driving it back towards Portugal’s goal with a razor sharp right foot shot. An absolute masterpiece, for a player who wouldn’t even have played this match, had right back Dani Carvajal recovered from his injury in time.

Portuguese coach Fernando Santos tried to mix things up by sending in the Trivela Ricardo Quaresma, and Milan forward André Silva, but his ace in the hote eventually turned to be once again the man from Madeira, who concluded his hat trick from the free kick spot. With just two minutes to go, Ronaldo painted a perfect bend shot, and Busquets on the wall had to choose whether to be hit on his face by it, or letting the ball pass. He picked the latter option, which turned to be fatal to Spain.

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Minute 88 of a wonderful Portugal-Spain match: With this perfect free kick, Cristiano Ronaldo equalised for his red jerseys and set the final score to 3-3 (Photo: Reuters)

Koke eventually had to use his body to block a further offence by Ronaldo that could have brought Portugal on 4-3, but it would have been too much. The tie was a fair outcome, and sparked applauses for both sides. Spain and Portugal staged an amazing commercial for the game of football, but ended up getting only one point each, like two boxers that beat the hell out of each other, before the match is called a draw by the referees.

Unless something totally unpredictable happens in the next games, it will be goal difference to decide which of the two Iberian giants will make it to the next round from the first spot of Group B.


MATCH REPORT

June 15, 2018 – World Cup Group Stage Pool B
PORTUGAL-SPAIN 3-3

SCORERS: 4′ Cristiano Ronaldo (P, pen.), 24′ Diego Costa (S), 44′ Cristiano Ronaldo (P), 56′ Diego Costa (S), 58′ Nacho (S), 88′ Cristiano Ronaldo (P)

Portugal PORTUGAL (4-4-2): Rui Patricio; Cédric Soares, Pepe, José Fonte, Guerreiro; Fernandes (68′ Joao Mario), Bernardo Silva (69′ Quaresma), Moutinho, Carvalho; Goncalo Guedes (80′ André Silva), Cristiano Ronaldo. Coach: Fernando Santos
Spain SPAIN (4-4-2): De Gea; Nacho, Piqué, Sergio Ramos, Jordi Alba; Koke, Silva (86′ Lucas Vázquez), Busquets, Iniesta (70′ Thiago Alcantara), Diego Costa (Aspas 77), Isco. Coach: Hierro

REFEREE: Rocchi (Italy)
NOTES: Attendance: 43866; Yellow Cards: Fernandes (P), Busquets (S)

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