World Cup 2018 Spain vs Portugal: Ronaldo steals the show

Cristiano Ronaldo, yet again, stole the limelight, scoring his 51st career hat-trick

ronaldo-spain-world-cup-afp Portugal's forward Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates his third goal against Spain during the 2018 World Cup group B match at the Fisht Stadium in Sochi | AFP

It was a night that had everything. High-octane football, drama, exquisite shot making and its fair share of blunders. Cristiano Ronaldo, yet again, stole the limelight, scoring his 51st career hat-trick in the group B match between Portugal and Spain at the Fisht Stadium in Sochi.

If the first two goals came fairly easy his way, the third one was a feast for the eyes. A brilliantly taken free-kick that curled its way over and around the Spanish wall before finding the back of the net as an astounded De Gea watched helplessly.

Even after 94 minutes of exhilarating football and six goals, there was no clear winner at the end of it. In hindsight, Spain could have done better, having given away two goals fairly cheaply—one a penalty and the other, a glaring error by De Gea.

It was Spain all along the way, dominating possession but Portugal were always quick to attack on the break. Both Spain and Portugal had lost their opening matches in the last World Cup in Brazil four years ago. The Iberian neighbours faced off in a star-studded match with many familiar faces facing off against each other. Ronaldo was facing four of his Real Madrid teammates, but that didn’t stop him from scoring his 82nd goal for Portugal, after they were awarded a penalty in the third minute. The Portugal skipper made no mistake from the spot, coolly sending De Gea the wrong way.

Spain looked half asleep in the first 10 minutes, with La Roja finding it hard to keep possession. Spain’s first real chance came in the 11th minute when Silva missed a volley following a cross from Isco. But the 2010 World Cup champions soon bounced back, after Diego Costa levelled in the 24th minute. Portugal complained that Costa had fouled Pepe, but the goal stood. La Roja continued their relentless attack, with Isco sending a cracker that hit the post and bounced off the goalline. Video replays later confirmed that the ball had, in fact, not crossed the goalline.

Portugal continued to attack on the break, before Ronaldo sent a left-footed low shot straight at De Gea, which the Manchester United shot-stopper fumbled to give Portugal the lead. It may have been karma for De Gea, who did a Joe Hart when Ronaldo had stepped up to take the penalty. The Iberians went into break with Portugal leading 2-1. Spain had 70 per cent of the possession at half-time but two silly errors saw them trailing the Portuguese.

The second half looked scripted for Spain who started the attack on the front foot. Diego Costa scored yet again in the 55th minute following a set-piece taken by Silva whose free-kick was headed towards Costa by Sergio Busquets. Spain refused to sit back and their playmaking was soon rewarded yet again when Nacho Fernandez sent a left-footed volley screaming past Rui Patricio, hitting the woodwork and grazing past the goalline. As is human nature, Spain sat back after taking the lead for the first time in the match and looked all set to seal three points in the bag, but Portugal’s talisman had other ideas.

An 87th minute foul by Pique on Ronaldo proved costly for Spain a minute later. Ronaldo sent a curler up and around the Spanish wall and into the back of the net as David De Gea watched on. The Manchester United custodian was played over by Ronaldo for the third time in the match. Ronaldo, who had never scored against Spain before, made amends in style.

The draw has thrown group B wide open after Iran beat Morocco 1-0 earlier in the night. Iran lead the group, with Portugal and Spain trailing. If the opening day’s goals galore by Russia wasn’t convincing enough, it is now safe to say that the 2018 FIFA World Cup is well and truly alive.