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FIFA World Cup 2018: Five Highlights From the Thriller Between Spain & Portugal

Spain’s 3-3 draw with Portugal was one of the most thrilling World Cup games ever, with Cristiano Ronaldo’s hat-trick – sealed with a magnificent free-kick – giving Portugal a deserved share of the points. We look at five of the things we learned from the thrill-a-minute encounter.

Dileep Premachandran | News18 Sports

Updated:June 16, 2018, 12:40 PM IST
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FIFA World Cup 2018: Five Highlights From the Thriller Between Spain & Portugal
Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo in action during the match against Spain on Friday. (FIFA.com)
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Spain’s 3-3 draw with Portugal was one of the most thrilling World Cup games ever, with Cristiano Ronaldo’s hat-trick – sealed with a magnificent free-kick – giving Portugal a deserved share of the points. We look at five of the things we learned from the thrill-a-minute encounter.

Uncomfortable flashbacks for Hierro?

Fernando Hierro was Spain’s captain at Euro 2000. But for the final league game against Yugoslavia, he sat out and watched 90 crazy minutes unfold. Spain controlled the game but went behind twice against a Yugoslav side as lethal on the counter as Portugal were on Friday. Spain equalized on both occasions and then saw the Yugoslavs reduced to ten men. But it was the men from the Balkans that scored next and as the clock ticked past 90 minutes, Spain were going out. But they won a penalty in the fourth minute of injury time, and after Gaizka Mendieta had calmly stroked it in, Alfonso sealed the points by lashing in a left-footer after a long ball had been headed into his path. As they were 18 years ago, Spain were excellent going forward against Portugal, but the defensive lapses would have had Hierro tearing his crewcut out.

Oh, David!

The joke on social media afterwards was that Hierro had asked David de Gea to carry the Spanish side as he has done Manchester United in recent seasons. But apparently, De Gea mistook “carry us” for “Karius”, and fumbled the ball into his own net much like Liverpool’s goalkeeper had in the Champions League final three weeks ago. His mistake was also reminiscent of Andoni Zubizarreta’s blooper against Nigeria in France 20 years ago. Then too, Spain bossed the game, and were leading 2-1 before Zubizarreta palmed in an innocuous left-wing cross from Garba Lawal. And it would get worse as Sunday Oliseh breached the sound barrier with a shot that Zubizarreta barely saw before it flashed past him and into the net. Ronaldo’s free kick to salvage the draw on Friday night was almost as good. Almost.

The mind of a champion

The Ronaldo-Messi debates will rage on long after both have stopped playing. What is indubitable is this: Ronaldo is possibly the most mentally strong footballer the game has ever seen. His will to improve his game and bend matches to that will is incomparable. In dire situations, Messi has sometimes looked flustered and lost. Ronaldo tends to roll the sleeves up and win them. The story of Real Madrid’s Champions League dominance has Ronaldo at its centre, with the evisceration of Bayern Munich a few seasons ago being exhibit A. Against Spain in Sochi, Portugal, after a bright and breezy opening quarter-hour, were always second-best. But with Ronaldo on the prowl, you knew that the devastating counter was never far away. Had Gonzalo Guedes shown more composure in front of goal, Portugal might even have won.

Iniesta still the master

Vissel Kobe’s gain is European football’s loss. Andres Iniesta isn’t the player he was when he inspired Spain to a hat-trick of major titles between 2008 and 2012. He’s a yard slower, misplaces more passes, and no longer has Xavi, his fellow carousel-passer, alongside him. But for nearly an hour, his influence on proceedings was immense. The sniping runs, the nonchalant passes, the movement to create space for teammates. Except for a goal, his night had everything. He won’t last 90 minutes in most games, but the cameos will do enough damage.

Thug life

As Spain crashed out of the last World Cup, Brazilian fans saved most of their disdain for Diego Costa, who had been born there before switching allegiance. Few players in the modern game polarize opinion like he does. Atletico Madrid fans adore him for the role he played in their La Liga win in 2014. Chelsea supporters miss the spikiness and physicality he gave their forward line. Opposition fans loathe him for how he plays, all knees and elbows. The first equalizer against Portugal was a classic example, with Pepe cleaned out as they contested a high ball. Costa is better than anyone at inhabiting the no-man’s land between what’s legal and what’s a foul. Even the VAR couldn’t find enough evidence of smart practice to overturn the goal. The Portuguese were incensed, but those flailing elbows and the delightful footwork that followed before the shot into the corner summed up Costa and his value to the sides he plays for.
| Edited by: Madhav Agarwal
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