Portugal 3, Spain 3.
Goal scorers: Portual -- Ronaldo 4' (p), 44' and 88'; Spain -- Diego Costa 24', 55' and Nacho 58'
On paper, they were anything but equal. When Portugal lined-up against a star-studded Spain at Sochi's Fisht Stadium, they had but one mega-star, Cristiano Ronaldo. But that one man alone defies logic, calculations, or history. On the outward, it's his six-pack abs and toned muscles that show, but it's the passion, determination, and drive he has inside of him that helps him conquer the world. On the second day of the FIFA World Cup 2018, Ronaldo conquered Spain. Just like that.
The match in itself certainly lived up to its billing. "The first big match of the tournament," they said. It certainly was. For the goals and the quality of the play. Six goals were scored; three apiece for both teams. It all began very early in the match. In the fourth minute, to be precise. Spain, who are looking to reclaim their position at the top of the footballing world, had a horrible start to the game when they conceded a penalty. Defender Nacho foolishly dangled a leg, tripping Ronaldo. The Portuguese captain was readying for the penalty when De Gea approached him in an effort to unsettle him. But Ronaldo, if nothing else, is mentally tough. Seconds later, he had buried the penalty to the right, sending De Gea the wrong way.
Nacho wasn't even supposed to be starting. He was there in absence of Dani Carvajal, who has just recovered from a right hamstring injury and was on the bench. After he fouled Ronaldo, the forward smiled cheekily at his club teammate.
Spain tried to restore normalcy and started their pass-weaving, with Andres Iniesta, Isco and David Silva popping almost everywhere. Portugal didn't mind not having the possession. What they did try was to break-away when they got the ball and launch counter-attacks. And they had their chances.
The Spanish were sleek and neat in possession, the way they have been for over a decade now. But for the team known for its artistry and obsession with 'doing things the right way', it was Diego Costa -- a man of relative disrepute -- who brought them the equaliser in the 24th minute. And it was his beast-like strength and aggression that got him the goal. Costa controlled a long ball forward, fended off a challenge from Pepe (which had a tinge of foul in it), and then of Fonte before firing a bottom corner finish.
Diego Costa. (Photo: @fifaworldcup twitter)
It was all Spain after that with Iniesta, Silva and Isco all having a go at the goal. Portugal sat back and looked to counter but Spain were in the driving seat. The half-time was almost there. But in the 44th minute, Ronaldo scored. And it's all down to De Gea who let Ronaldo's strike after a counter squirm through his legs.
That's not how you'd have described Spain's David De Gea, who is arguably the best goalkeeper in the world on current form, before the match vs Portugal. But an atrocious 'save' by him in letting a shot by Cristiano Ronaldo slither through his gloves and into the back of the net gave Portugal the lead against Spain who were looking more like adding to their tally of goals.
Heading back to the tunnel after the half-time, Portugal had a surprise lead, and it was all down to Ronaldo.
As the game resumed, Spain again took control and dictated the proceedings. That paid too. In the 55th minute, David Silva took a short free-kick and picked out Sergio Busquets at the back post who headed the ball to the far end of the goalpost. Diego Costa was the first to react and stabbed the ball home to draw Spain level.
Spain quickly followed their equaliser with a lead within three minutes when Nacho, the man who had conceded penalty earlier in the match, hit a thunder-bolt strike into the left-hand corner and beyond the reach of Portugal keeper Rui Patricio. Spain had taken lead in the game for the first time. Nacho was suddenly the hero. And the internet was afloat with the story of how Nacho revealed had been diabetic since childhood and how he overcame it to play for a top club like Real Madrid. That he was a fighter and that it showed in the match too. Spain were in control. All looked good. But they had discounted one factor: Cristiano Ronaldo.
In the 86th minute, Gerard Pique fouled Ronaldo on the edge of the box. The referee awards a free-kick to Portugal. How many times has Ronaldo stood on a free-kick, in his trademark style with his legs making a triangle, heavy breathing and sheer focus. He then curled a ball beyond the reaches of leaping Ramos and Pique. The ball dipped and nestled into the top corner. Ronaldo had scored his 51st career hat-trick (club and country). Cometh the hour, cometh the man!
Spain will be disappointed to have dropped points despite taking the lead. For Portugal, a spirited performance from Ronaldo and Portugal should lift their morale. There were some goof-ups by Spanish players but they were otherwise thoroughly entertaining. Everybody counts Spain among probable winners of the World Cup; after this performance, they won't count out Portugal either.
Patricio; Soares, Pepe, Fonte, Guerreiro; Silva, Carvalho, Moutinho, Fernandes; Guedes, Ronaldo. The formation will be (4-4-2)
Bruno Alves, Manuel Fernandes, Andre Silva, Joao Mario, Anthony Lopes, Ruben Dias, Ricardo Pereira, Gelson Martins, Mario Rui, Ricardo Quaresma, Beto, Adrian Silva.
De Gea; Nacho, Pique, Ramos, Alba; Busquets, Koke; Silva, Isco, Iniesta; Costa. The formation will be 4-2-3-1
Daniel Carvajal, Saul Niguez, Rodrigo Moreno, Thiago Alcantara, Lucas Vazquez, Alvaro Odriozola, Kepa Arrizabalaga, Cesar Azpilicueta, Nacho Monreal, Iago Aspas, Marco Asensio, Jose Reina.
The teams have arrived in the stadium.
Live Blog: https://t.co/F3WTYtiMIx
— FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup) June 15 2018
Referee: Gianluca Rocchi (Italy)
When the draw for the Fifa World Cup 2018 was announced, the match between Portugal vs Spain, which is the second match of Group B at the Sochi's Fisht Stadium was considered one of the most exciting matches in the first round because of the high profile names involved in the match. On one hand, you have five-time Ballon d'Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo and on the other hand, you have star-studded Spain, led by Andres Iniesta.
Despite Portugal and Spain being old rivals, their opening match in the showpiece event will only be their second-ever meeting on the football's greatest stage.
When and where to watch:
The match will be telecasted live in English on SONY TEN 2, in Hindi on SONY TEN 3 and in Bengali, Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu on SONY ESPN.
Time: 8.30 PM IST
For live streaming, the match can be streamed at sonyliv.com
The impact of Cristiano Ronaldo: Ronaldo will surely be a key man for Portugal when they square off against Spain. He will be up against some of his Real Madrid clubmates, who will surely know his tricks and skills.
Ronaldo was instrumental in their Euro 2016 victory. Ronaldo's passion at the end of the game where he almost imposed himself like a coach was exemplary.
As for his compatriot Cristiano Ronaldo's uncertain future with Real Madrid, Portugal midfielder Fernandes said the Portuguese squad travelled to Russia solely to win all their matches and were not thinking about anything else.
At the same time, Fernandes added that Ronaldo is very important for the Portuguese national team, which depends to a certain extent on his goals and fitness.
The Spanish Tiki Taka
Spain's starting XI in Russia is likely to have a familiar feel to it. In goal, David De Gea is undoubtedly first choice. In defence, Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos will take up their usual positions in the center, with Jordi Alba and Dani Carvajal occupying the full-back spots.
Further forward, Iniesta will anchor the Spanish midfield, and will be supported by fellow veterans Sergio Busquets and either Koke or Thiago Silva.
On the wings, David Silva and Isco will make a formidable duo who can drop towards the centre as the full-backs take up the space.
Up front, Diego Costa is a bruising target man who will be a handful for opposition defenders, though it is possible newly-inducted Fernando Hierro may choose to deploy Iago Aspas in a false nine role.
Other attacking alternatives include Lucas Vazquez and Rodrigo, whose speed and flexibility will provide the team with no shortage of tactical variety.
Recent form of Portugal: The Fernando Santos-led side had endured a roller coaster ride in the recent months. They have defeated Switzerland, Egypt and Algeria while they lost 0-3 to Netherlands and settled for draw against Tunisia and Belgium in their last six matches.
After the euphoria of winning Euro 2016, even the most ardent Portugal fans would admit that their victory was largely unexpected and was achieved in a pragmatic, attritional style under the guidance of Fernando Santos.
Recent form of Spain:
Though Spain have been in impressive form in the lead-up to the showpiece event, they were hit by the shocking axing of their head coach Julen Lopetegui.
Lopetegui's sacking came after he was named as the new Real Madrid coach. Former Bolton Wanderers centre-back Fernando Hierro replaced Lopetegui as the manager of Spain for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
The new system of Portugal: Portugal's playing style totally contrasts Spain, who like to play technical, skillful and free-flowing football.
Santos will also be under pressure, having dropped the ever-present Nani (the third most capped player in Portugal's history), the hero of the Euro 2016 final, Eder, and the Barcelona pair of Nelson Semedo and Andre Gomes. A Portugal team without these four would have been unthinkable a few short months ago.
New attacking talent comes in the form of Andre Silva and Goncalo Guedes, who will be hoping to replace the likes of Nani and Quaresma in the near future.
Portugal's system is built on a solid defence with relatively few goalscoring chances being created, in the hope that Ronaldo will need just half a chance to score. The 33-year-old talisman has formed an impressive partnership with Silva and their link-up play will be vital if Portugal are to have a successful tournament.
The two squads are as follows:
Goalkeepers: Anthony Lopes , Beto , Rui Patricio
Defenders: Bruno Alves , Cedric Soares, Jose Fonte, Mario Rui , Pepe , Raphael Guerreiro , Ricardo Pereira , Ruben Dias
Midfielders: Adrien Silva , Bruno Fernandes , Joao Mario , Joao Moutinho, Manuel Fernandes , William Carvalho
Forwards: Andre Silva , Bernardo Silva , Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid), Gelson Martins , Goncalo Guedes, Ricardo Quaresma
Goalkeepers: Kepa Arrizabalaga , David De Gea , Pepe Reina
Defenders: Cesar Azpilicueta , Dani Carvajal , Jordi Alba, Nacho , Nacho Monreal, Alvaro Odriozola , Gerard Pique , Sergio Ramos
Midfielders: Isco , Thiago Alcantara, Sergio Busquets , David Silva , Andres Iniesta, Saul Niguez , Koke
Forwards: Marco Asensio , Iago Aspas, Diego Costa , Rodrigo , Lucas Vazquez.