But not too many like this, obviously, because he didn’t move. As Cristiano Ronaldo’s free-kick sailed over his wall and into the top right corner, De Gea was no more than an interested observer. What a goal – and what a game. If there are games better than this it is going to be one hell of a World Cup.
Spain looked like they had won it. From 1-0 down, then from 2-1 down, to lead 3-2. Ronaldo had other ideas. In one game he doubled his tally at the previous three World Cups. What a player he is.
MATCH FACTS AND STATS
PORTUGAL (4-4-2): Patricio 6; Soares 6, Pepe 5, Fonte 5, Guerreiro 6; Bernardo Silva 6 (Quaresma 69), Moutinho 6, William Carvalho 6, Bruno Fernandes 5 (Mario 69, 6); Ronaldo 9, Guedes 5.5 (Andre Silva 80)
Unused subs: Bruno Alves, M. Fernandes, Lopes, Dias, Pereira, Martins, Rui, Beto, Adrien Silva
Goals: Ronaldo 4 (pen), 44, 88
Booking: B.Fernandes 28
Manager: Fernando Santos 6.5
SPAIN (4-2-3-1): De Gea 4; Nacho 6.5, Pique 6, Ramos 6, Alba 6; Busquets 6.5, Koke 7; David Silva 6 (L. Vazquez 86), Isco 8.5, Iniesta 8 (Thiago 69); Costa 8 (Aspas 77)
Unused subs: Carvajal, Saul, Rodrigo, Odriozola, Kepa, Azpilicueta, Monreal, Asensio, Reina
Goals: Diego Costa 24, 55, Nacho 58
Booking: Busquets 17
Manager: Fernando Hierro 7
Referee: Gianluca Rocchi (ITA) 7.
Just two days in, but already a match many would consider worthy of a final, this was a scintillating, ferocious encounter that began with a penalty inside three minutes and didn’t let up from there. After that, two goals from Cristiano Ronaldo, a typically bruising opener for Spain from Diego Costa, an unlikely mistake from David De Gea, and a shot from Isco that threatened to sheer the crossbar in two. And that was just the first-half.
The weather forecast warned of thunderstorms but it would be hard to match the electricity inside the Fisht Olympic Stadium. Here were two teams considered to have a real chance in Russia, going toe to toe.
Portugal’s European Championship win has changed them, in terms of confidence; Spain always have the swagger of a stellar group. The upheaval this week is no way to prepare for any World Cup tie, let alone one as testing as this. Yet a glance at the team sheet showed Hierro has hardly walked into the impossible job. It read like a who’s who of European football, and included some of the greatest individuals of the last decade or more. Do they even need coaching; or just transportation to the ground?
Yet, facing them, was arguably La Liga’s greatest talent of all. When Julen Lopetegui agreed to swap international for Real Madrid this summer, one of the names he will have most anticipated working with is Portugal’s Ronaldo. Anyone here would understand why.
Ronaldo won a penalty, scored the penalty, scored a second and set up a wonderful opportunity for Goncalo Guedes, whose touch let him down. Whenever he had the ball, Spain appeared nervous.
This is more of a collective effort than it once was – and winning the trophy in 2016 with Ronaldo off injured will have done wonders for the confidence of the group – but where Spain are plainly a collective with playmakers to spare, Portugal lean heavily on Ronaldo’s immense quality.
His positioning, whether in assistance or looking to finish, is exceptional, his hunger never sated. His legs have gone, apparently, but don’t challenge him to a race just yet. The determination of his countert-attacking sprints remains one of the finest sights in football. At 33, this may be his last World Cup – but we say that because that would be true of most players, not because he ages like his contemporaries.