Rory Smith: Ronaldo has produced one of the most remarkable individual performances you could possibly hope to see, and illuminated what will take some beating as the best game of the tournament. Portugal hasn’t been discussed much as a contender for the World Cup, despite being European champion. This may have been an oversight.
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90 + 2’: Portugal Almost Pulls Away
Quaresa almost wins it! He walks the ball through the Spanish defense, into the penalty area, around two defenders. But the third arrives in the nick of time to smother his shot. What a winner that might have been. I think we all — players, coaches, fans, viewers — need a whistle, a beer and a shower at this point.
88’: GOAL! Ronaldo Equalizes
Oh woooooowwwwwwww! Ronaldo completes his hat trick with a stunning free kick, curled around the wall’s right edge. De Gea never had a chance. It’s 3-3. Message from the office in New York: “Can they just keep playing, please?”
86’: Sloppy Spain
Now it’s Spain that gives away a silly free kick, as Piqué, who had Ronaldo corralled with his back to goal, shoves him down.
84’: A Clasico Moment
A little Barcelona-Real Madrid spice as Ronaldo throws the ball to Jordi Alba, who was coming to take it for a throw-in. You can take the boys out of the Clasico, but you can’t take the Clasico out of the boys.
82’: Just When You Think Spain Is Sitting Back …
Isco adds some rare excitement at the other end, squeezing off a low shot that Rui Patricio handles with ease.
79’: Danger in the Area
A long, bounding ball from Portugal’s end results in a collision of Ronaldo, De Gea and Piqué, who appears to take the brunt of a collision with a goalkeeper and a bronze statue in full sprint. The ball, most important if you’re Spanish, winds up cleared in the interaction, and a handball by Quaresma trying to collect it allows everyone to exhale.
That ball seemed to catch everyone but Ronaldo by surprise, and he nearly made Spain pay for their momentary confusion.
76’: Spain Puts on the Clamps
It’s easy to get lulled into this thriller, but Spain has quietly settled into two banks of four defensively. For a team that knows how to pick a lock on offense, they also know how to clamp down when it counts.
70’: Portugal Makes Changes
Joao Mario and Ricardo Quaresma come on for Portugal, now seeking fresh legs and, most important, a goal with 20 minutes left. Spain brings on Bayern Munich’s Thiago Alcántara for Iniesta — young legs for aging ones.
64’: Spain-Portugal Delivers
This would have been a super World Cup final: tense, dramatic, goal-filled. A terrific game. Though, to be fair, awarding the trophy tonight before 24 teams kicked a ball might cause problems at the next FIFA Congress.
58’ GOAL! Nacho Gives Spain the Lead
Nacho steps into a failed clearance, puts his laces into the ball and pings both posts with a shot through traffic. A rocket and, for the moment, a potential winner.
55’: GOAL! Diego Costa Makes Portugal Pay
And that’s what happens when you give away free kicks easily. GOAL! Free kick is rolled into play, lofted to Busquets at the right post, and he nods it into the path of Costa.He’s got two now, just like Ronaldo, and we’ve got a game again. Spain: 2, Portugal: 2, All of us: happy.
Rory Smith: Diego Costa has been Spain’s great conundrum in the last few years: he offers a threat the rest of the team simply doesn’t possess, but he’s always struggled to be himself in a context that is so alien, and a style so unfamiliar. If Fernando Hierro has solved that in two days, maybe he should have got the Real Madrid job.
53’: Spain’s Strategy …
Spain’s back to playing keepaway. Their possession can lull defenses to sleep and they know it. Enough of it, and an opponent without focus can be coaxed into bad positions, bad decisions, bad fouls out of frustration. That was one right there, and now, just like that, Spain has a dangerous free kick from 30 yards.
46’: More Entertainment on the Way?
The teams are back and here we go. Let’s hope the second half is even half as good as that first 45 was.
Was just wondering how many goals Ronaldo would have by now if he’d been fined, say, $50 million this morning by the Spanish tax man.
Halftime: Two Ronaldo Goals Give Portugal the Lead
Cristiano Ronaldo scores early — a fourth-minute penalty — and late — on a 44th-minute blunder by Spain’s goalkeeper — and Portugal leads the Iberian Derby in Sochi, 2-1 at the break. Spain was solid except for the two times it wasn’t, and Ronaldo — an assassin of a forward who seems to get better with age — was there each time to pounce.
44’: GOAL! Ronaldo Does it Again
A howler from De Gea and Portugal leads 2-1. Ronaldo gets the ball near the top of the area, and wangles a hard low shot at De Gea. Eminently saveable, he instead lets it skip off him and in. That’s a terrible mistake from an outstanding goalkeeper, and it’s cost his team badly here in the closing second of the half.
Rory Smith: This will be no solace for David De Gea — who really does not make mistakes like that — but this is the game the World Cup needed. Spain has been breathtaking at times, but there’s a resilience to Portugal, a nous, that makes them a threat. And they have this guy upfront: tall, tan, who looks to have quite the career ahead of him.
42’: Pepe’s Not Really Sorry
One of the eternal truths of world soccer is that when Pepe fouls a guy from behind and then helps him up and says “sorry,” he’s probably not. The same truism applies to Sergio Ramos and probably a dozen other players you can think of off the top of your head.
40’: This Is the Real World Cup
And we close in on halftime, let’s all acknowledge and say thanks that this game is far, far better than both Egypt-Uruguay and Iran-Morocco were.
35’: Iniesta Comes Oh So Close
Andres Iniesta turns in the area and rolls a low shot toward the far post through a teammate’s legs. But he’s got the angle fractionally wrong, and while Rui Patricio dives to make it look good in the photos, the ball was always going wide.
The contrast in attacking styles tonight is remarkable: Spain attacks like a molasses spill — slowly and steadily creeping forward, ever forward, inch by inch — applying more and more pressure, hoping something finally cracks, and they’re in. Portugal, on the other hand, waits and waits and then breaks out like a stolen Ferrari on the counterattack.
30’: VAR Does its Job
They finally show the replay of the Spanish shot off the bar, and it wasn’t close to crossing the line when it came down. Goal line technology, introduced at the World Cup in 2014, does its job. I’ve never seen it fall to be honest.
Fernando Hierro, by the way, is prowling the Spain coaching box in shirtsleeves like he wants to check in to the game. Gesturing, clapping, stalking.
29’: Silva Hits the Wall
Silva stands over the free kick with Koke as the referee sets the wall. Silva right, Koke left. But the shot finds the wall like a magnet.
26’: Spain Almost Scores Again
Was that in?? We’ll review. A Spanish shot rockets off the crossbar and down off the line — Georff Hurst-style — but a second look says no, it didn’t go in. And again play moves on.
24’: GOAL! Diego Costa Levels for Spain
Diego Costa gets behind the defense and dances around two defenders until he can get a look at the goal. Spotting it, he buries a shot past Rui Patricio.
Rory Smith: Spain’s reputation for delicacy is well-earned, but occasionally a little bit of brute force is required: Diego Costa bulldozes (just about fairly) through Pepe, twists and turns until he sees a glimmer of goal, and then arrows a shot past Rui Patricio. This is better than Iran against Morocco.
21’: Spain Threatens, but Misses
We’re spending a bit more time in Portugal’s end here as Spain probes the Portuguese defense at its leisure. Now Iniesta spots a crease and dashes into on the left. He takes the ball to the end line and cuts it back for Silva, but his shot goes wide.
17’: Free Kick for Ronaldo
Sergio Busquets loses a ball on the left side and, compounding his mistake, picks up a yellow. Ronaldo stands over the free kick.
Ronaldo slams it into the wall, half of Portugal’s team calls for a handball, but the referee, Italy’s Gianluca Rocchi, isn’t having it. He points the other way, and Spain is playing keepaway again.
16’: Spain Tries to Find Comfort Zone
A little more possession for Spain here, which is their comfort zone. Quick one touch stuff: here you have it, oh no you take it back, no you, really, no you, OK, I’ll look over here, oh never mind here’s the ball back. But it might settle them a bit.
14’: Ronaldo in Charge
The crowd roars audibly literally every time Ronaldo touches the ball. He’s the star here, a spotlight that as we all know he doesn’t like. (I’m totally kidding; he looooooooves it.)
11’: Clock Games
Ruo Patricio almost seems like he’s time-wasting after collecting a deep ball, picking it up, dropping it, picking it up again. Which would be the funniest thing ever considering it it’s THE ELEVENTH MINUTE.
Spain is wearing white today, btw, and Portugal is in Spain’s traditional red shirts. It’s a little disconcerting.
10’: Spain Tries to Recover
The ball falls to David Silva after a hopeful cross into the penalty area, and he slashes at it with his right foot and skies it over the bar.
The look on his face after that miss surely matches all of Spain’s, a nation trying to figure out how such a hopeful summer could go so wrong so far.
3’: Goal! Ronaldo Makes Spain Pay
Well, we said there would be drama, and that’s it from the start. A foul, a whistle and a penalty for Ronaldo! He converts, and just like that Spain’s World Cup somehow manages to get even worse.
Rory Smith: Four minutes in, Portugal leads, through what looked, at first glance, like something of a soft penalty. Cristiano Ronaldo’s dancing feet enticed Nacho — his Real Madrid teammate — into what was definitely a foolish tackle; the forward threw himself to the floor after what was probably fairly minimal contact, and then dusted himself down to convert the spot-kick. His celebration — stroking his chin — may have been a G.O.A.T. reference. More on that as we get it.
The First Heavyweight Match of the World Cup
There’s a buoyant atmosphere in Sochi ahead of the first really heavyweight meeting of the 2018 World Cup — an Iberian derby between Spain and Portugal. It’s been easy to miss the European fans in Russia so far — the Latin American contingents are more numerous and, if we’re honest, louder — but there are plenty from both countries in the baking heat of Sochi, on the lip of the Black Sea. The stadium is pretty much full, too, which is kind of a relief, after both of today’s other games were pockmarked by empty seats. — Rory Smith
Spain’s New Coach Deals With Drama
Spain’s new coach, Fernando Hierro, has stepped into a bit of a mess before this game, but he told reporters this week that Spain had no time to dwell on it.
“We’ve come to fight for the World Cup,” he said. “We have a great opportunity and that should be the focus.”
Hierro understands the stage; he made four World Cup teams and played in three for Spain. He said this week that he took over the team in its time of crisis out of a sense of duty. “When the president told me the possibility, I had three choices: to say no, another was to go and the third was to stay, to take a step forward for the Spanish federation and for Spanish soccer,” he said. “I couldn’t say no because I would not forgive myself.”
Spain vs. Portugal Starting Lineups
The lineups are out in Sochi, and both include household names:
For Spain: De Gea; Nacho, Piqué, Ramos, Alba; Busquets, Koke, Iniesta; Isco, Silva; Diego Costa.
One player who may have been lost in all the drama is Spain goalkeeper David De Gea. He’s among the best in the world at his position, and he just signed a new five-year deal to stay at Manchester United. So that should clear his head just in time to face Ronaldo.
For Portugal: Patricio, Soares, Fonte, Pepe, Guerreiro, B Silva, Carvalho, Moutinho, Fernandes, Guedes, Ronaldo
They’ll have a lot to live up to: the day’s first two games both ended with dramatic late winners. The soccer, however, should be a bit smoother from these two. For the sake of everyone, let’s hope it’s Ronaldo and Iniesta and David Silva and Bernardo Silva we’re talking about later, and not something Pepe or Sergio Ramos has done.