Portugal vs Spain was billed as the first major clash of the 2018 FIFA World Cup and the tie certainly didn’t disappoint as the European powerhouses played out a thrilling 3-3 draw at the Fisht Stadium on Friday.
Cristiano Ronaldo stamped his class on Matchday 1 itself, registering the tournament’s first hat-trick to ensure the Euro champions didn’t open their campaign with a morale-sapping defeat, rather a creditable draw.
With six goals scored, some of them absolute crackers, there were bound to be a few talking points:
A clash that lived up to the pre-match hype and then some
After the ridiculous opener that was Russia vs Saudi Arabia on Thursday, interest in the World Cup had flagged after two relative snooze-fests on Friday but boy did the all-Iberian clash match raise decibel levels all across the globe.
A breathtaking start to the tie set the tone as Nacho upended club mate Cristiano Ronaldo and CR7 promptly dusted himself off to find the back of the net for the fourth World Cup running.
Spain recovered and started to dictate proceedings, with Diego Costa bullying his way into a fabulous equaliser before Ronaldo did what he does best to give the European champions a slight edge going into the interval.
La Roja were looking dangerous after the interval and turned the tie on its head thanks to Costa’s second and a golazo from Nacho only for Ronaldo to once again prove that he’s more than capable of carrying a nation’s hopes on his shoulders.
Six goals over the course of 90 minutes and this was truly a tie worthy of the World Cup, without any disrespect to the other sides who played earlier on Friday and Saturday.
Forget this edition of the quadrennial extravaganza, this clash may well go down as one of the greatest ever in the history of the World Cup.
Love him or hate him, you can’t ignore Cristiano Ronaldo
Yes, the second one was borne out of a blunder from the usually redoubtable David de Gea, but the first and third strikes were all CR7’s doing.
Picking up where he left for Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League, the 33-year-old won both set-pieces before cooly converting them, either side of the interval.
If the penalty sent de Gea the wrong way, the free-kick had him in no-man’s land and it’s times like these you just have to admire the sheer brilliance of
Barely any time left in the tie, against a European powerhouse like Spain, Ronaldo draws a foul from Gerard Pique near the edge of the box and then holds his nerve to send a vicious free-kick over the wall and into the top corner before the Spanish custodian can even react.
This guy has been called clutch before, but he just continues to redefine the term with each passing game.
Did we mention it was his 51st career treble? Most footballers don’t even score 51 goals in their career, to put that stat in perspective.
Iran the real winner from the draw
After Iran, somewhat fortuitously, edged Morocco, they must have been watching this tie eagerly hoping for a stalemate.
And a draw it was, with some scintillating display of football, but the fact remains that the Asian nation now tops the group with three points while the Europeans both have a point apiece.
Considering both Spain and Portugal are expected to beat Morocco, can Iran (managed by Portuguese tactician Carlos Queiroz) throw a spanner in the works?
Effectively, they would require to beat either of the Iberian sides and qualification will be automatically confirmed. Even a draw would complicate matters and right now, the Iranians look good value to grab a point or two.
What looked like a routine Spain-Portugal one-two may not be the case anymore.
Watch this space.
Can Diego Costa fire La Roja to World Cup glory?
Make no mistake, there were plenty of positives for Fernando Hierro’s side after the full-time whistle sounded in the Fisht Stadium.
The biggest one being Costa’s form in front of goal.
At the club level, the former Chelsea man is right up there in the top echelon of forwards but everyone knows his form for his adopted nation has left a lot to be desired.
Memories of the disastrous 2014 campaign were still fresh on the minds but 60 minutes into Spain’s tie with Portugal, it was apparent that this was a different beast that was heading their attack.
Costa bulled half the Portuguese defence to score what will now register as a mere footnote, but a goal of the finest quality it was and the Brazilian-born forward’s form bodes well for La Roja, not so much for their competition.
The modern game doesn’t put as much emphasis on the centre forward as in the good old days, but as long as you’re playing in an offensive position, goals is the name of the game and it looks like Costa is the man to fire Spain to cup glory.
Denis Cheryshev or Nacho? Good luck picking your goal of the tournament
Two days, four games and 14 goals scored. Not even a single draw till now.
And two absolute golazos already (And we aren’t even counting Ronaldo’s free-kick or Costa’s first strike!) makes it a fine start to the summer.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the 2018 FIFA World Cup aka the greatest show on Earth.
And while we are at it, Denis Cheryshev of Russia and Nacho of Spain have got their own little mini-competition started. The best goal of the tournament of course.
Perhaps, former Real Madrid man just about shades the current Real defender’s, but it’s just too close to call.
Not that we are complaining, for if the first two days can do this, imagine what the next week will bring.