Portugal rode on captain Cristiano Ronaldo’s brilliance to snatch a 3-3 draw against neighbours Spain in the second Group B game of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.
The Seleccao were up and running early as Ronaldo converted from the penalty spot in the 4th minute. Spain struck back through Diego Costa’s brilliant strike in the 24th minute. With half-time looming, Portugal took the lead again, as Spanish custodian David De Gea’s failure to make a routine stop meant Ronaldo’s speculative effort crept into the net.
Ten minutes into the second period, La Roja were back on level terms though, with Costa getting his second of the game and when Nacho hit home a brilliant volley to make it 3-2 three minutes later, the turnaround was complete. However, Ronaldo turned saviour for his team once again, as he dispatched a marvelous free-kick in the 88th minute to reinstate parity.
Both teams came away with a point from the game, and are behind Iran in the Group B standings, who beat Morocco 1-0 earlier in the day. And here we pick out the three players who impressed the most in Sochi;
Heading into the game, all eyes were on Portugal’s main man Cristiano Ronaldo. And the manner in which he was pumped up during the national anthem, you could sense he was more than up for the task. The 33-year old hasn’t had the best of records in previous World Cups, but it took only four minutes for him to make a mark in the match.
Having slotted home the early penalty, the Portuguese maverick continued to cause problems with his pace and movement at the top, especially when the Seleccao broke on the counter. Having added another goal to his tally before half-time, there was an air of inevitability when he stood over the ball to take the free-kick in the 88th minute. Everybody knew what was coming, and it did, in a spectacular fashion.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that Ronaldo had the most shots at goal in the game (4), three of which ended up in the back of the net. He also won the most aerials in the game (5), highlighting how he was able to get the better of the Spanish defensive duo of Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos.
With his first goal, the Real Madrid superstar became just the fourth ever player to score in four different FIFA World Cups and also became the first footballer in history to net in eight consecutive major international tournaments. And the hat-trick he scored, was the 51st of his career (for club and country). Stuff of legends!
The Spaniard’s petulant nature often overshadows what a brilliant striker he can be when he gets going. And thankfully for Spain, it was the latter side of Diego Costa that surfaced up in Sochi on Friday.
While there were some signs of mischief in the buildup to his first goal, the composure and the strength that he showed, before he buried the ball past Rui Patricio in the between the sticks was sheer brilliance. The 29-year old then showed his awareness and natural instincts to time his move before nudging the ball into the net to bring Spain back into the game for the second time.
There were moments of lull in between, but Costa’s link-up play with his teammates on some occasions was eye-catching and his goals on the night proved how big a threat he can be. The Atletico Madrid striker was a subject of wide ridicule after his failure in Brazil four years ago, but this time it is different. Beware Russia, Diego Costa has arrived.
Standing out in a midfield that comprises of the likes of Andres Iniesta and David Silva isn’t easy by any means, but Isco managed to do just that on Friday. The playmaker might not have scored or assisted a goal on the day, but his influence in the final third for Spain was unmissable.
Isco was involved in everything bright for La Roja going forward from the get-go, posing all sorts of problems to the Portuguese with his clever movement and passing. The 26-year old was unlucky not to get his name on the scoresheet in the first period, when his thunderous strike thumped off the crossbar and bounced on the goal-line and back into play.
Isco had the joint-highest number of touches in the game (123), along with his captain Sergio Ramos and was the player who played and completed the second highest number of passes, again behind Ramos. The 26-year old also attempted (7) and completed the most number of dribbles in the game (3).
These numbers just go on to highlight how much influence that the Real Madrid star carried on the field for the Spaniards. And if this performance was anything to go by, Isco will have a huge role to play for Fernando Hierro’s side, if they are to go on a strong run.