Cristiano Vs. Spain, this is normally the tagline associated between Spain and Portugal. Essentially, this tie broiled down to just that. A Cristiano Ronaldo Hattrick combined with a Spanish trademark performance where they dominated stretches over large periods of the game. The World Cup 2018 officially started today.
That being said, this has easily been the messiest lead up to a game in recent memory. Julen Lopetegui was given the boot just two days before the start of the World Cup after signing to become the next Real Madrid manager and only reportedly telling the Spanish Football Federation five minutes before the news became public. This is said to have created unrest in the locker room as La Roja can be best described as a superteam of players from Real Madrid and F.C Barcelona. Lopetegui was replaced by his assistant manager Fernando Hierro who is a Real Madrid legend. On the other side, a number of Portuguese players who play for Sporting Lisbon players tore up their contracts in response to being attacked by a group of fans at their training ground. Also, Cristiano Ronaldo accepted a massive fine to avoid jail time for a tax evasion charges. He is said to pay the Spanish Authorities in excess of $21 million. And he paid them back with a hattrick. The World Cup Is Back!
For the first twenty minutes of the game, the Spanish side did not look like they wanted to be on the pitch. Nerves and a overall lack of concentration combined with the Portuguese high press and off the ball movement led to a soft foul - but a foul nonetheless - by Nacho. Ronaldo drew the foul and calmly tucked the ball into the bottom corned after having send David De Gea the wrong way. Calm is also not a word that is often associated with Diego Costa. His challenge on Pepe (which was not a foul as confirmed by V.A.R) and then dogged out a few Portuguese defenders before slotting in to the bottom corner. The first half of the first real game of the World Cup ended with a De Gea blunder. What would have been a routine save for the consensus best goalkeeper in the world when in reality he gifted Ronaldo his second.
La Roja scored their second, and Costa's second to level the score for the second time in the game off a set piece. Less than two minutes later, Nacho scores a screamer off a half volley and redeems himself for giving away Ronaldo's first. All three of Spain's goals were uncharacteristic for them and shows that they have more tricks under their bag than just boring the hell out of their opponents by overwhelmingly dominating possession. This summed up much of the second half as Portugal sat back and absorbed pressure while Spain dominated the ball among their midfield. The status quo was maintained till the 87th minute when Pique fouled Ronaldo at the edge of the box. Having never scored a free kick when the Portuguese emblem proudly rests on his chest, this was missing from his resume. CR7 completed his hattrick with a sensational free kick. He connected with the ball perfectly; he lifted his effort over the Spanish wall and it had enough curl and the right dip to bury it in the top corner to leave David De Gea with no chance. An incredible performance from the Portuguese Captain to twice give his team the lead and then help them salvage a point when they needed him the most.
An incredible game! The clash of the Iberian Peninsula ends all square but it had many of the elements needed to make the headlines. A Lebronesque performance by Cristiano Ronaldo to will his team to a draw with a career 51st hattrick. This was an uncharacteristic performance by Spain. Goals that did not result from their style of play and a multitude of isolated defensive lapses that are unlikely to be repeated in the coming games. Portugal cannot rely on a Ronaldo hattrick in every game to get them deep into this tournament. Batman needs his Robin. Somebody needs to step up and create opportunities to help Ronaldo. Spain need to regroup and not let their defensive errors get the best of them. Oh, and V.A.R did not screw up.