Every World Cup finals needs great players to do great things and there are few who intervene more consistently at the great crossroads of history than Cristiano Ronaldo, king of the big stage and all that happens on it.
Just a hat-trick to declare in this, his 151st cap for Portugal against the great Spain generation of the 21st century, including a third from a free-kick which was one of those moments when he insists that the world stops what it is doing to watch. He hitched up his shorts, shut his eyes for a moment, took a deep breath and then clipped a right foot shot around the wall so accurately that David De Gea did not even spring for it.
This was a World Cup game for all the ages, and if Russia 2018 had so far been about narrow margins and small nations overachieving, then this was the deluxe edition featuring two great sides and ultimately one historical footballer.
These were Ronaldo’s 82nd, 83rd and 84th goals of a golden international career over which his game has changed but his contribution to Portugal, a better team that the Euro 2016 winners, but still quite ordinary, has never flagged. There is no side that knows him better than Spain do, no defence with more experience of playing with and against him and yet Ronaldo locates vulnerability wherever he goes and whoever he plays.
These goals meant that he became only the fourth man in history to score in four World Cup finals and the first to do so in eight straight international tournaments, and it is not simply that he did so, it was also that he knew that he had to. He twice gave Portugal the lead, although this was still a great Spain performance at times, coming back through two goals from Diego Costa and then given the lead by Nacho.
How does Ronaldo do it? He exploited his Real Madrid team-mate Nacho to win a penalty for the first, he was gifted the second by De Gea’s blunder and the third was one of those moments for which he lives. He won the free-kick, just right of centre and the perfect distance and who is to say that all that was not part of the plan, one more shrewd move in an evening that was full of them.
Even so, it could have been worse for Spain who dominated possession as usual but were flustered by Ronaldo early on and were unable to rely on De Gea. They broke down Portugal’s ageing defence piece by piece in the energy sapping heat of this stadium by the Black Sea and really should have won the game once Nacho gave them the lead. If the sacking of Julen Lopetegui affected them it was perhaps on their lack of composure in the early stages but they soon found their stride.
The half ended with Ronaldo surreptitiously glancing up at the big screens to check out his own celebration in the way that he always permits himself to do after yet another great career plot-twist. In one half of football, he had scored his 82nd and 83rd goals of a remarkable international career against the one country that might know best how to stop him and for Portugal it was almost all going to plan.
There is nothing like watching the late-era Ronaldo for a lesson in economy of movement and swift identification of the maximum opportunity. The slo-mo on the stadium screens captured the look of foreboding on the face of his Real Madrid team-mate Sergio Ramos as he realised he was not going to be able to cover the shot that was Ronaldo’s second. Ramos was late for the only show in town and the punishment was coming.
Either side of Diego Costa’s tremendous equaliser, a brutal roughing-up of Portugal’s defence, Ronaldo showed how that even on this, his 151st cap for his country at the age of 33 he knows precisely where to go on the pitch and when to get there. He tricked his Madrid team-mate Nacho into conceding the softest penalty within three minutes and later dragged Ramos all over the pitch.
Ronaldo has built a good partnership with the young Valencia forward Goncalo Guedes which sees the two of them balance one another’s positions well. The great goalscorer of Portugal drops into the No 10 position occasionally and flicks balls off, and there was one occasion when he cut a chance back to Guedes so unexpectedly that the younger man snatched at his chance out of what seemed surprise.
That was another fine break on the counter-attack against a Spain team were open when they lost the ball, and brilliantly exploited by Ronaldo. With barely two minutes played, he brushed off David Silva and bewildered Nacho with a stepover to win the penalty which he scored. His second went straight through David De Gea, a terrible mistake from the Manchester United goalkeeper who has made a series of them for his country in recent games. He seemed to have his left hand wrongly set to make what was a routine stop.
That second goal, a minute before half-time, undid Spain’s hard-work at getting back into the game. Both Isco and Andres Iniesta were lively but it was Costa’s ability to push the limits that got them the equaliser. On 24 minutes, he put an arm into Pepe’s jaw to get the ball and then twisted the hapless Jose Fonte both ways as he lined up the shot. Fonte was desperately awaiting reinforcements but they never arrived.
Costa’s second equaliser of the day showed again the lack of sharpness in Fonte and Pepe, when he turned in Busquets’s knockdown. Nacho’s right foot hit, in off the post was glorious. Iniesta was replaced by Thiago and even Costa was given a rest after an evening of hunting the Portugal defence. Spain looked set to close the game out and yet by the end they came very close to losing it.
When Ronaldo stepped up for his free-kick, De Gea, gave him the left side of his goal and relied on the wall which jumped as best it could – and there may even have been a flick of Busquets. Either way, it was enough and Portugal even created one more chance for Ronaldo, who these days knows that the big moments will always come his way.
Cristiano Ronaldo speaks
“We tried to win. Spain had control of the ball, but the draw was a fair result.
“The team have sacrificed until the end. We were facing one of the favourites, we knew that it would be difficult.
“I always believe in myself, I work for this but I want to emphasise the response of the team.
“We must give credit to the team. “
The hat-trick hero
Here’s James Ducker’s analysis of his performance on a sultry night in Sochi:
Fernando Hierro speaks briefly
“I’m very pleased with the team. I think we’ve taken an important step and we’ve gained in confidence.
“We’ve overcome all kinds of adversity. The team has fought, has personality, they haven’t stopped believing, and this is important with all that has happened.”
“When you play against a player like Cristiano Ronaldo, that kind of thing can happen. With Cristiano, one moment of inspiration can be enough.”
Hierro also backed De Gea, saying: “He’s one of ours and here we never abandon anyone.”
We’re waiting for post-match quotes
But here’s some of the best photos of the day to entertain you while they cogitate and enunciate.
Signs off by referencing the ‘Three Ronnies’ (ask your grandad). ‘It’s goodnight from me, it’s good night from them and it’s a good night for him.’
The critical moment
Was Pique’s unnecessary trip on Ronaldo that led to the free-kick from which he equalised.
Portugal vs Spain stats
Courtesy of Opta
- Spain have now won their opening World Cup match in just two of their last 13 tournaments (D4 L7 – 2002, 2006).
- Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo became the first player in history to score in eight consecutive major tournaments (World Cup, European Championships and Copa America).
- Cristiano Ronaldo is just the fourth player to score in four different World Cup tournaments (2006, 2010, 2014 and 2018) after Pele, Uwe Seeler and Miroslav Klose.
- Spain conceded after just three minutes and 30 seconds – it was the fastest goal they’ve ever conceded at the World Cup.
- This match produced six goals, more than the previous four meetings between Portugal and Spain at major competitions (Euros and World Cup) combined (four goals).
- Spain striker Diego Costa scored with his first two shots on target at the World Cup.
- aged 33 years and 130 days – the previous oldest was Rob Rensenbrink in June 1978 for the Netherlands against Iran (30y 335d).
- Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo netted his 51st hat-trick for club and country, while it was also the 51sthat-trick scored in the history of the World Cup.
- Cristiano Ronaldo’s third goal of the match was his first direct free-kick goal at a major tournament for Portugal – it was his 45th attempt from a free-kick.
Ronaldo makes the difference
And here’s how:
You don’t have to like him to acknowledge how blessed we’ve been to enjoy his sublime talent.
90+3 min Portugal 3-3 Spain
Ronaldo has gone down with cramp after being penalised for a push as he tried to win a header in the box. He has doubled his World Cup tally from three World Cup during a single game in his fourth.
90+1 min Portugal 3-3 Spain
Quaresma runs into the box from the right, leaving two defenders in his wake, but Koke slides in to block-tackle him and avert the threat.
90 min Portugal 3-3 Spain
This is Ronaldo’s 51st career hat-trick and Portugal will start the four minutes of added time with a corner.
89 min Portugal 3-3 Spain
Extraordinary. He bent the free-kick around the left of the wall, looped it beyond the defenders and got it to dip in under the crossbar. A punishing strike.
88 min Portugal 2-3 Spain
Danger here. Ronaldo is brought down by Pique 24m or so out, half a metre to the right of centre.
86 min Portugal 2-3 Spain
Spain make their final substitution: Lucas Vazquez on for David Silva.
I don’t think we animated Spain’s second equaliser. Here it is:
84 min Portugal 2-3 Spain
Ronaldo, peeved that a throw-in is given the other way, chucks the ball hard at Jordi Alba who accidentally on purpose drops it and is then harangued by the Portugal skipper for wasting time. Over comes the ref with oil for troubled waters.
82 min Portugal 2-3 Spain
Isco ought to be the man of the match for a simply sensational performance but Sergio Busquets deserves a hell of a lot of praise and not just for his spoiling work. He’s the key to attack and defence.
80 min Portugal 2-3 Spain
Portugal make their third substitution: Andre Silva comes on for Guedes.
78 min Portugal 2-3 Spain
Portugal are preparing to send Milan misfit but hero of 2016, Andre Silva, on. Cedric chips a 40m pass up the inside-right channel. Ronaldo chases with ball ahead of him and the path takes him into the box. De Gea and Pique race out to try to beat him to it and the centre-back just gets there first to toe-poke it away from Ronaldo before all three collide.
76 min Portugal 2-3 Spain
Spain substitution: Diego Costa departs with two goals. Iago Aspas comes on.
74 min Portugal 2-3 Spain
It has been an outstanding game and Portugal still look dangerous on the break especially when Himself has the ball. Quaresma collects a throw in, turns Jordi Alba and then with marvellous technique tries to arc a lob with the outside of his right foot over De Gea but he couldn’t get it to dip under the bar.
72 min Portugal 2-3 Spain
Portugal corner taken short by Quaresma to Joan Moutinho who hooks a cross to the back post. Pepe wins the header but loops it back across goal when he should have gone straight for it. Ronaldo manages to keep it in but can do no more as his momentum takes him out of play and Spain impose order on chaos, recover possession and head upfield. Look at Nacho’s body position here as he shoots to score:
71 min Portugal 2-3 Spain
Jordi Alba is found on the overlap by Thiago and the left-back drags back a cross for Diego Costa who slides his first-time shot on the run past the right post.
69 min Portugal 2-3 Spain
Spain bring on Thiago [Alcantara] for Andres Iniesta who receives a standing ovation (not in sequence) from the hordes in the red of Spain.
68 min Portugal 2-3 Spain
Spain’s fans are on their feet, in sequence, executing a Mexican wave. Another Portugal substitution: Quaresma replaces Bernardo Silva.
66 min Portugal 2-3 Spain
A touch of swagger entering Isco’s play but Spain give Portugal a hare to chase with a long ball upfield so they can hve a blow for a few seconds after the past intense 10 minutes. At last the ball goes out and Bruno Fernandes can be substituted. Joao Mario replaces him.
63 min Portugal 2-3 Spain
And here’s Nacho’s strike:
Portugal are getting Joao Mario ready to come on. Ramos hits a terrific long diagonal but Spain cannot prosper from their captain’s vision.
61 min Portugal 2-3 Spain
Guedes wins a header in the Spain box after a solo run from Cristiano Ronaldo as he tries to drag his team onwards but it drops awkwardly and Spain break up the left. Isco bamboozles Bernardo Silva with some dainty footwork and is kicked for his impetuosity. Free kick.
58 min Portugal 2-3 Spain
What a sumptuous finish! Iniesta and David Silva tiptoe and tiki-taka their way into the box from the left and Portugal cannot cope and dare not dive in to tackle. The last pass is blocked and ricochets cross the area to the right where it’s met on the half volley by the right back who thumps it with his laces from the right of the D, hits the inside of the left post and into the back of the net. For a right-back to keep that so low … superb technique. Here’s Diego Costa’s second:
55 min Portugal 2-2 Spain
David Silva took the free-kick, chipping it towards the right post. Busquets had stolen away from the bigger defenders and beats Raphael comfortably, heading back across goal. Diego Costa, bullocking towards goal, outmuscles his pursuers to clip it crisply past Rui Patricio and score his second equaliser.
52 min Portugal 2-1 Spain
It has been a slow start after the thrill of the first-half. Portugal are well-marshalled in defence, backing themselves to outnumber Spain. Iniesta is fouled 35m out, a touch to the left of dead centre, tripped by Joao Moutinho.
49 min Portugal 2-1 Spain
Bernardo Silva, about 10m ahead of his right-back and 30m inside his half, hits an arcing left-foot pass up to Ronaldo who stuns it with his first touch, cuts inside of Jordi Alba but slips. The ball bobbles through to the left where Bruno Fernandes latches on and chances his arm with a 30m shot that flies wide. Trying to see if De Gea was jittery, perhaps, after his first-half flap.
47 min Portugal 2-1 Spain
David Silva caught offside after a three-man short passing routine up the right involving Iniesta and Nacho.
46 min Portugal 2-1 Spain
Sergio Ramos works the ball back to the keeper and they begin to build with short passes.
Out they come for Act II
Portugal were clinical, Spain magnificent at times in their attacking play but made two decisive mistakes.
Cristiano Ronaldo scores his second
Great goalkeepers make mistakes and De Gea remains a great goalkeeper. Some things are inexplicable. The shot was close to him but his body position looked correct and his hands well set.
Half-time Portugal 2-1 Spain
An enthralling first half. Easily the best of the four matches so far. Who would have fingered De Gea to make such an error?
45 min Portugal 2-1 Spain
There was a VAR check to see if Ronaldo was offside when the ball was played – he wasn’t but had been earlier. I suppose that’s payback to all United fans’ hubris for laughing at Loris Karius. The shot, low to his right, sped along the ground but De Gea had time to get down on one knee to form a barrier. The shot split his fingers, hit his leg and went in at the right post.
GOAL! Portugal 2-1 Spain
De Gea turns Karius and spills a shot from Cristiano Ronaldo from the edge of the area.
42 min Portugal 1-1 Spain
Spain take the free-kick after a delay, hitting a digonal out to the right for Isco who curs inside and fires a low shot that Rui Patricio dives forward headlong to gather.
40 min Portugal 1-1 Spain
Isco’s movement is causing untold problems as is Diego Costa who looks in superb nick. He is brought down with a shocking tackle form Pepe who hit his right ankle with the top four studs of his right boot as Diego Costa had his back to him. Free kick but no yellow card which would have been deserved.
38 min Portugal 1-1 Spain
Spain corner after more beguiling movement down the left from Isco. Dvid Silva takes it and beats Pepe at the near post. Busquets climbs but it’s too far ahead of him to control and though he does reach it he steers it over the bar with the hairs of his eyebrows the first to meet it.
35 min Portugal 1-1 Spain
A delightful big Rondo move from Spain, effecting a triangle down the left with Jordi Alba playing in Isco who pulls back the perfect pass to Iniesta who has drifted away from Willian and taken a position ametre or so to the left of the spot. He takes it on first time, sweeping a daisy-cutter of a shot centimetres wide of the far post.
30 min Portugal 1-1 Spain
Apologies for the score mix-up in the last two posts, please refresh for it to update properly. Jordi Alba come sround the back on the left to crane his neck and reach a cross. His header appears to be blocked by the defender’s arms which were raised above his head. He claims a penalty but the referee isn’t having it. Fernandes is yellow-carded for scything Nacho down at the shins.
28 min Portugal 1-1 Spain
Isco, ghosting in from the left again, thunders a shot against the underside of the bar from where it bounces down and hits the whitewash of the goalline. Spain shout that it’s in but the GLT does not alert the ref and when we are shown a replay it clearly hits smack in the middle of the line.
25 min Portugal 1-1 Spain
What an end-to-end swing – Portugal head the corner out and Ronaldo, always poised in the perfect position, latches on to it, races forward and looks as if he still has the gas of a 17-year-old in his legs. Surprisingly he lays the ball off to Guedes who fouls up his shot. Spain recover, Busquets knocks it long, Diego Costa controls it and Pepe falls under his challenge, possibly clipped, then he patiently waits for defenders to commit themselves at the edge of the box before drilling a superb shot into the bottom right corner through Fonte’s legs.
GOAL! Portugal 1-1 Spain
Diego Costa – what a superb finish. VAR is looking at it and deems it perfectly legal. He didn’t foul Pepe who went down like a sack of spuds in an aerial challenge.
21 min Portugal 1-0 Spain
That’s tremendous from Iniesta as he dribbles with a soft-shoe shuffle up the byline from the corner flag and opens his body to tee up David Silva whose shot from about 7m is blocked behind for a corner.
20 min Portugal 1-0 Spain
Ronaldo takes and hits the wall but the referee had already blown for Portugal’s jostling of the Spain defenders in the wall. Pictures are beginning to come in now:
19 min Portugal 1-0 Spain
And back come Portugal up the right. Busquets, over-manned, goes over the ball to stop the attack, planting his studs into Bernardo’s shin pad. Free-kick, 20m out, wide on the right.
17 min Portugal 1-0 Spain
And they almost break free there, Portugal’s eight men defend Spain’s raid up the right by clearing the cross to Ronaldo, tucked in on the left, and he hooks a brilliant first-time volleyed pass for Guedes to run on to. The young centre-forward drifts right and ignores Ronaldo’s request for a return pass and runs out of space but Spain cannot get it out of their half.
15 min Portugal 1-0 Spain
Ball retention from Spain and their traditional probing rhythm is being established. Portugal are happy to soak it up, flood defence and try to do them on the break.
13 min Portugal 1-0 Spain
Spain are enjoying a promising spell, using Isco’s movement and interchanging with Iniesta to give Pepe problems as they ghost into space. Pepe has to concede a corner to ward off the threat of being turned and Spain try to dribble it in after taking it short, taking it up the byline until thwarted by Cedric and Pepe.
11 min Portugal 1-0 Spain
Chance for Spain. Isco bombs down the left, draws Cedric then whips in a cross towards the penalty spot that is met by David Silva who flays a right-foot shot over the bar from 15m.
6 min Portugal 1-0 Spain
Spain try to regroup with some quick, precise passing before Ramos again sweeps a long pass out to the right. Spain will have a throw-in but they mess up their routine, trying to get behind Raphael and throw it too long so it rolls out of play. They’ve started very shoddily.
4 min Portugal 1-0 Spain
Nacho, Real Madrid’s second choice right-back, was left isolated and exposed with Ronaldo running at him after a sumptuous cushioned trap. It was a valid penalty. Nacho did touch him and shouldn’t have committed himself.
GOAL! Portugal 1-0 Spain
Ronaldo smashes the penalty high to De Gea’s left after the keeper dives to the right.
3 min Portugal 0-0 Spain
Portugal have a penalty – a very slight touch from Nacho on Ronaldo who hurdled his leg but left his foot trailing to catch the clumsy tackle.
2 min Portugal 0-0 Spain
And Rafael flies up the wing where he’s played in by Bruno Fernandes and crosses. Guedes shoots but it’s blocked on the edge of the area.
1 min Portugal 0-0 Spain
Spain kick off, shift the ball back to the defence and they stroke it about until Ramos sprays a long right-foot pass out for David Silva on the right that he has to leap to control but can’t keep it in play. Portugal use the re-start to attack up the left.
Ramos and Ronaldo hug
Exchange pennants and slap each other on the back. Are you ready? 1-2-3-4. Hey ho, let’s go!
Out come the teams
And we begin with the anthems. Portugal sing theirs very merrily and roar at the end. Spain stare earnestly. And since their anthem has no established lyrics, what else can they do?
Catching the eye
Three of Portugal’s starting XI, Rui Patricio, William Carvalho and Bruno Fernandes have cited ‘just cause’ and terminated their contracts with Sporting this week after the squad was attacked by a group of about 50 fans in May. The latter two will be in for huge contracts when they decide which clubs to join after the tournament as free agents.
Portugal, the ‘home’ side, will wear red, Spain their white away kit. What does Thom ‘Trinny’ Gibbs make of them? Here, you’re welcome.
It took too long
For David De Gea to establish himself as Spain’s No1 tournament goalkeeper. But here he is:
Begins its coverage with the people’s poet, Kevin Turvey, and the people’s poem that ends with ‘It’s Cristiano vs Spain’. They won the Euros without him. If it’s not Eddie Butler, the BBC has gone heavy on the pre-match doggerel this past year.
Archie Rev, our pocket Simon Inglis, writes about Sochi thus: The stadium’s roof was removed to meet Fifa regulations, and the sweeping stands on either side of the pitch are in contrast to the smaller structures behind each goal. It bears resemblance to the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. It is 18 miles from the city centre, so fans will have to base themselves at one of the fan parks near the stadium. And only have the one pint, of course. Will host three group stage matches, one last-16 tie and a quarter-final.
Those XIs in black and white
PortugalRui Patricio; Cedric, Pepe, Fonte, Raphael Guerreiro; William Carvalho, Joao Moutinho, Bruno Fernandes, Bernardo Silva; Cristiano Ronaldo, Gonçalo Guedes.
Spain De Gea; Nacho, Pique, Ramos, Jordi Alba; Busquets, Koke; David Silva, Isco, Iniesta; Diego Costa.
Referee Gianluca Rocchi (Italy)
And Spain have picked theirs
The word on Marca was that Iago Aspas would be preferred to Koke but the Atletico midfielder is in the XI and the former Liverpool player will be risking intimate splinters on the bench.
Spoiler alert 2!
Ninety minutes’ ebb and flow can be a bit of a distraction for some. If you’d like to know the final score now, have a go on the Telegraph’s ingenious predictor:
Spain’s World Cup winner – a tribute
Jamie Carragher has written about Andres Iniesta, a player he rates as highly as Zinedine Zidane. Enjoy!
The struggle for mastery in Europe*
It’s 2018 and still no Haggerston beardie has come up with a viable, pithy name for the Portugal vs Spain rivalry other than the frankly stuffy ‘Iberian Derby’. Never mind, eh? I suppose we will just have to steel ourselves to cope without any portentous guff about a ‘Trans-Peninsula civil war’ played out to a soundtrack that welds Fado to some Flamenco golpes.
What we have instead in Sochi is a match between neighbours who between them have been European champions for the past 10 years and yet, given their records as serial qualifiers for these tournaments, have met only once before in the World Cup finals, eight years ago in Cape Town when David Villa’s ‘offside’ goal was allowed to stand in the Round of 16 and Spain went on to become world champions.
Only those who have been living under rocks will have missed that Spain, having qualified at a stroll with nine wins and a solitary draw, have had their preparations thoroughly janked by kind old Florentino Pérez, equitable and benevolent president of Real Madrid, who has detonated their preparations by poaching Julen Lopetegui to be a cut-price manager of his club. Narrow self-interest and party loyalty before country, now where have we seen that before?
Yet Spain have responded with admirable resoluteness, sacking Lopetegui and putting their sporting director, Fernando Hierro, in charge. Hierro may have managed only a season in Liga B in charge of Oviedo, but if you ask Jupp Heynckes and John Toshack, he effectively co-managed Real Madrid with other Bernabéu barons for large parts of his later years with Real Madrid. He left Real Madrid after protesting at the sacking of Vicente del Bosque and at the way Pérez was running the club. His thoughts about his old president’s conduct would be well worth hearing. He was a demanding and determined captain, but adaptable too. When Iván Campo and Sam Allardyce persuaded him to move to Bolton Wanderers for his last season as a player, he rolled back the years and was outstanding at times in a holding midfield role even though there were only fumes left in the tank.
There has been plenty of comment over the past few days that Spain, with World Cup-winners Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos, Sergio Busquets, David Silva and Andres Iniesta in the team plus David de Gea, Diego Costa, Dani Carvajal, Jordi, Isco et al, will essentially manage themselves. I don’t think that’s how it works with Hierro. But he is clever enough not to inhibit them with any late tactical changes and, as a speaker, he is far more inspirational than his here-today-gone-tomorrow predecessor, El Rata.
As for Portugal, they also qualified with nine victories but their defeat by Switzerland, who also enjoyed a 9-1 record, meant they topped the group only on goal difference. There is a sense that some of the bloom from their victory at Euro 2016 has wilted, the veteran defence is two years older than it was in France and while the midfield is of prime age and promise and the strategy has broadened from simply serving Cristiano Ronaldo, the five-times Ballon d’Or winner remains too important at the age of 33 to carry the banner through seven games. In France, they were frankly awful until the semi-final and then prevailed in one of the worst major finals in history. Ugly as sin, they still found a way to win.
Spoiler alert – Portugal may try to suck the life out of the game and draw Spain towards sterility but don’t let that kill the keen anticipation. Diego Costa vs Pepe! Cristiano Ronaldo vs Sergio Ramos! Spain vs Portugal! El Derby del Guadiana! Oh no, I did it. Where’s my razor?
* In AJP we trust
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