In a pulsating match that lived up to the enormous expectations as the most anticipated contest of group play, Cristiano Ronaldo completed a hat trick with a sumptuous free kick from 25 yards into the upper right corner in the 88th minute as Portugal twice squandered one-goal leads before scraping out a 3-3 tie versus Iberian rival Spain in the Group B opener of the World Cup for these teams in Sochi.
Ronaldo, who became the fourth player in World Cup history to score in four different tournaments earlier in the contest, drew a foul on Gerard Pique just above the semicircle and slightly off-center to the right. The Real Madrid star calmly curled a right-footed shot around a four-man Spanish wall and inside the right post as keeper David De Gea helplessly watched it ripple the net.
Sensing the chance to steal all three points after the equalizer, Portugal pushed forward for a winner, with Koke making a desperate sliding tackle in stoppage time to block a shot by Ricardo Quaresma, who had cut in from the left into the penalty area and avoided two defenders before trying to shoot.
Diego Costa scored Spain’s first two goals before Nacho had given the 2010 World Cup champion a 3-2 lead on 57 minutes with a spectacular searing volley from distance. La Roja twice overcame one-goal deficits, but their possession-based and short-passing style was not enough to see out the contest, and a howler by De Gea on Ronaldo’s second goal right before halftime will also be pointed out as a reason they claimed only one point.
The result leaves Iran as the unexpected leader of Group B through the first set of matches by virtue of its late 1-0 triumph over Morocco, while Spain and Portugal are tied for second. The result capped a tumultuous first week in Russia for Spain, which fired coach Julen Lopetegui on Wednesday one day after he accepted the Real Madrid coaching position without informing anyone in the Spanish federation he was negotiating with the reigning three-time Champions League winner.
Lopetegui’s replacement, Fernando Hierro, cut a composed figure in the coaches’ box, offering support to his players as the style of play remained identical to the one that powered La Roja’s rise as one of the best teams of all-times with European Championship titles bracketing their World Cup triumph in South Africa.
Facing an opponent comprised of many of his Real Madrid teammates, Ronaldo and Portugal started the game on the front foot, and he drew a penalty on Nacho, who clipped him in the left side of the penalty area after the Portuguese superstar performed a stepover. Ronaldo made no mistake from 12 yards, slamming the ball into the right side of the net for his 81st international goal as he joined Pele, Uwe Seeler and Mirsolav Klose as the only players to score in four different World Cup tournaments.
Spain found its bearings and pulled level in the 24th minute as Costa scored one of his trademark goals. He initiated contact with Portuguese defender Pepe, knocking him to the pitch, while chasing a long ball sent by Sergio Busquets, gained control of it and then outfoxed Jose Fonte before ripping a right-footed shot between Fonte and a second defender from the top of the penalty area between them and inside the left post past a diving Rui Patricio.
La Roja nearly grabbed the lead minutes later as Isco uncorked a rasping right-footed shot that thumped the underside of the crossbar and landed on the goal line before being cleared from danger. Referee Gianlucha Rossi, who did consult the VAR crew on both Ronaldo’s penalty and Costa’s first goal, did not need a second opinion since his watch never buzzed.
By this point, Spain was in full pressing mode and stringing passes together in rapid-fire fashion. One such sequence ended with a shot by Andres Iniesta rolling inches wide of the right post. Yet it was Portugal which went into halftime with a 2-1 lead as Ronaldo collected a pass from Goncalo Guedes and took a step to his left before taking a low 20-yard shot straight on that De Gea did not get down fast enough to stop as it caromed off his body and rolled into the net.
Costa, though, struck again to draw Spain level in the 55th minute. In a beautiful set piece, David Silva sent a free kick long to the right, where Sergio Busquets headed it back to the middle, where Costa slammed it home from close range. Then it was Nacho’s turn to do what Isco could not, unleash a thunderbolt that resulted in a goal.
A poor clearance by Portgual’s William Carvalho went out to the left, where Nacho was able to size it up before lashing a right-footed shot that sliced off the inside of the left post.
Costa had a chance to provide a crucial insurance goal in the 71st minute, but he was unable to sweep a cross fashioned by Jordi Alba’s cutback. Spain had dominated possession for a long spell after Nacho’s goal, but also had pulled back after Hierro subbed out Andres Iniesta on 70 minutes.
Ronaldo became the third Portuguese player to record a hat trick in the World Cup, joining Eusebio (1966) and Pauleta (2002). It was the 51st hat trick in World Cup history, with Switzerland’s Xherdan Shaqiri most recently accomplishing the feat versus Honduras in 2014.