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Ronaldo treble frustrates Hierro’s Spain

  • Published at 01:59 am June 16th, 2018
  • Last updated at 03:50 am June 16th, 2018
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Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo scores from a free kick during their World Cup match against Spain in Sochi Friday Reuters

The 2010 winner Spain failed to overcome their recent turmoil as they were hunted down by Portuguese sensation Cristiano Ronaldo in what turned out to be a thrilling Group B encounter at Fisht Stadium in Sochi, Russia Friday.

Spain lost their 3-2 lead in the 88th minute as a brilliant Ronaldo free-kick made it all square to spark wild celebration in the Portugal dugout.

It was all about Ronaldo and the wonderful free-kick ensured Euro 2016 champion Portugal kept their hope alive of finishing as the Group B winner.

After trailing twice, courtesy Ronaldo’s brace, Spain came back strongly, riding on Diego Costa’s double and a scintillating volley from Nacho. Safe to say, probably the biggest high-voltage group stage match in the 2018 Fifa World Cup lived upto expectation.

Both the teams started with 4-2-3-1 formation with Ronaldo and Costa upfront for their respective sides. It was inevitable that Portugal would depend on the quick counterattacks while Spain enjoyed their predictable passing game in midfield.

The fear of Ronaldo hunting down Spain was realised as early as the fourth minute of the game when Nacho brought down Ronaldo inside the box. Italian referee Paolo Valeri pointed to the spot and Ronaldo made no mistake, sending David de Gea the wrong way to give Portugal an early lead.

Spain were visibly shocked but they had the opportunity to bring parity in the 10th minute when David Silva, arguably Spain’s best player on the pitch Friday, shot over the bar with his weaker right foot after Costa delicately brought down a high ball from Jordi Alba.

Spain tried hard to come back to the game and got their first corner in the 13th minute but Silva failed to equalise.

In the 21st minute, 2010 edition’s final scorer Andres Iniesta masterfully dribbled to the right side and sent Silva clear but the Manchester City playmaker saw his shot get deflected, and resulting in a counter-attack for Portugal. Ronaldo received the ball from the right side and sent it to the centre of the box to Goncalo Guedes, who lost his bearings.

Costa brought Spain back into contention almost single-handedly in the 24th minute. Receiving an aerial ball against the challenge of Pepe, he took it to the right side of the box, controlled it before beating the dive of Rui Patricio. Cedric Soares was slightly at fault for the goal as the ball went between his legs.

There was a brief moment of pause as the Video Assistant Referee came into play but the goal stayed, despite Costa and Pepe clashing against each other.

In the 26th minute, Isco was denied a goal by just a few millimetres when the Real Madrid midfielder hit the lower side of the bar with a wonderful volley. His shot landed on the goalline and the technology showed it missed by a whisker.

Spain again went close to scoring in the 35th minute when Koke failed to connect properly on a Iniesta shot as the ball just missed the far post.

Ronaldo, who was virtually carrying his side on his broad shoulders, made it 2-1 when he scored from outside the box. Receiving a pass from Guedes, Ronaldo shot straight at De Gea, who brought back memories of Loris Karius’ blunders in the 2018 Uefa Champions League final on May 26.

Just like Karius, De Gea misjudged the straight low shot from Ronaldo as the ball hit the back of the net.

In the second half, Spain gradually took control of the game and got the result almost immediately after resumption.

Costa netted again as Spain equalised after Busquets’ header from a Silva free-kick found Costa. 

Just three minutes later, Silva dribbled his way inside the box. Silva failed to unleash a good shot but luckily, the deflection fell kindly at the feet of Nacho outside the box. His right footed volley went past the despairing dive of Patricio to give Spain the lead for the first time in the game.

Thiago Alcantara replaced Iniesta in the 70th minute and made an immediate impact. Thiago dribbled wonderfully to the left side of the box before passing it to Silva. Silva then passed it to Isco, who in turn sent the ball to Costa. Costa though failed to make good contact.

The game was all set to finish in favour of Spain but Ronaldo had other ideas. Gerard Pique conceded a foul outside the box and Ronaldo stepped up to complete his hat-trick, and neutralise the lead. 

Then came the final whistle that was cheered wildly by the Portugal fans. The Portuguese supporters were vocal throughout the game and Ronaldo repaid the faith of the fans in some style by sending an unstoppable free-kick past De Gea.

RESULT

Portugal 3 (Ronaldo 4-P, 44, 88) Spain 3 (Costa 24, 55, Nacho 58)

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