The 2018 edition of the Iberian derby between tournament contenders Portugal and Spain proved to be the most electric one yet as Cristiano Ronaldo capped off perhaps his most impressive performance in a red shirt to seal a 3-3 draw. An 88th minute free kick sealed an impressive hat trick against a Spain team that needed a result to counteract all of the anxiety that followed the team following the removal of coach Julen Lopetegui on Wednesday. Spain stuck to the game plan and put on an impressive offensive display with help from Atletico Madrid striker Diego Costa, however silly errors in defense casted doubt on their potential for winning the big one in Russia.
- The Best of Spain & The Worst of Spain
Giving away a penalty in the second minute of any match is worrying. Giving away a penalty in the second minute of your first game in the World Cup is frightening. Giving away a penalty in the second minute of your first game in the World Cup to Cristiano Ronaldo is a catastrophe, but that’s just what right back Nacho Fernandez did. In the 58th minute of the match, Nacho scored a cracking volley to give Spain a come from behind 3-2 lead. Nacho’s performance was a microcosm of Spain’s performance as a whole, the highest moments offensively, and dreadfully low defensive moments. Diego Costa of Atletico Madrid impressed after being selected to lead the line and scored 2 goals, including a magnificent solo effort, and combined well with deep playmaker Sergio Busquets who registered 2 assists on the night. Most of Spain’s impressive possessive play came through Isco who weaved his way through midfield with expert precision chances for himself and Iniesta that were near misses. However, calamitous errors from David De Gea, who parried a Ronaldo shot into his own net, and Gerard Pique, who gave up the free kick that allowed CR7 to equalize, meant that all of La Roja’s silky play was for naught. Iran and Morocco will allow Spain to exorcise some of these errors and show off more flashy ball movement, but to fulfill their potential as tournament favorites: Pique needs to perform, Nacho needs to be more attentive, and De Gea needs to stop watching videos of Loris Karius.
- Ronaldo Has G.O.A.T Performance (But Needs More Help From Supporting Cast)
Oldest to ever score a hat-trick at the World Cup? Check. Performance of the tournament so far? Check. Equaling Puscas as the most prolific European international goalscorer? Check. Cristiano Ronaldo putting the entire nation of Portugal on his back during international fixtures is nothing new for him. He single handedly propelled his side through the group phase of Euro 2016, however tonight’s display was the stuff of legends. Full of intensity, drive, and a hunger to perform, Ronaldo displayed why he’s the ultimate opportunist and at the top of his game at 33. When he stepped up to take what eventually would be the equalizing free kick, you just knew it was going in. Trouble is, Portugal shouldn’t have been in a losing position in the first place. Centre backs Pepe, age 35, and Jose Fonte, age 34, had tremendous difficulty handling the fortitude of Diego Costa and the trickery of Isco and Iniesta, and midfielder Joao Moutinho was largely anonymous all match. Winger Bernardo Silva and wing-back Raphael Guerreiro were the lone sparks of creativity to aid Ronaldo on the counterattack, but even they tired easily in the second half. In order for Portugal to still be chasing the gold in July, they need to up their game and perform as they did in Euro 2016. There will be a game that Ronaldo doesn’t score, and that match is where Portugal will need to be at their best: they’re a talented group of individuals who need to learn to play as a team.