The 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ saw Portugal and Spain face off for only the second time in the event’s history, the first being their quarter-final at South Africa 2010 settled in La Roja’s favour by a David Villa strike. This time both teams played their part in a thrilling, end-to-end Group B encounter, which saw a Cristiano Ronaldo hat-trick, Spain twice come from behind, and honours finally even in one of the games of the tournament.
Portugal 3-3 Spain
15 June 2018
Fisht Stadium, Sochi
Portugal (Ronaldo, 4′ pen, 44′, 88′), Spain (Diego Costa 24′, 55′; Nacho 58′)
Portugal: Rui Patricio, Raphael Guerreiro, Jose Fonte, Pepe, Cedric Soares, Joao Moutinho, William Carvalho, Bruno Fernandes (Joao Mario 68′), Goncalo Guedes (Andre Silva 80′), Bernardo Silva (Ricardo Quaresma 69′), Cristiano Ronaldo
Spain: David de Gea, Jordi Alba, Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique, Nacho, Koke, Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta (Thiago 70′), Isco, David Silva (Lucas Vazquez 86′), Diego Costa (Iago Aspas 77′)
Drawn together in Group B at Russia 2018, the pair went head to head in their opening game. Portugal required a play-off to reach the tournament despite having been crowned European champions only two years earlier. Spain, meanwhile, were still in the process of rebuilding after the disappointment of Brazil 2014. Nonetheless, the vibes were good following a trouble-free qualifying campaign – at least until 48 hours before kick-off, when head coach Julen Lopetegui was sensationally dismissed and then-sporting director Fernando Hierro appointed in his place.
Three aspects characterised this high-octane encounter:
- Precision: Portugal had just eight shots, three of them on target, which yielded three goals for an inspired Ronaldo. Ruthlessly efficient with the dead ball – he scored the first from the penalty spot and third with a direct free-kick – he also profited from a fumble by the unfortunate De Gea for his second. Spain had considerably more chances, 15 in total (of which five were on target) but were less clinical in their finishing.
- Resilience: La Roja twice came from behind to equalise. Portugal went in front early after Nacho was adjudged to have fouled Ronaldo. Diego Costa then restored parity after tying the Portuguese defence in knots, before Ronaldo put his side back in front just before half-time. After the break, goals from Costa and Nacho, the latter with a spectacular half volley, swung the tie again. However, a late foul by Pique some five yards outside the box allowed Portugal to have the final say.
- Possession v counter-attacks: True to their game, Spain had the lion’s share of possession (61 per cent) and used it well, dominating for long phases of the match. However, Portugal found a way to hurt La Roja on the break. With Moutinho and William shoring up central midfield, Fernando Santos’ side created danger with the pace of Ronaldo and Guedes and the accurate deliveries of Bernardo Silva and Bruno Fernandes.
Kicking off his fourth World Cup campaign, Cristiano Ronaldo turned in arguably his finest performance to date in the competition. The Selecção das Quinas captain weighed in with three goals from just four shots to secure a point against Spain. His finishing aside, the striker also contributed to the build-up play, drove his side forward and was a threat on the break.
His hat-trick was Portugal’s third at a World Cup after those of Eusebio (1966) and Pauleta (2002).
What they said
“I’m lucky that Cristiano is Portuguese, because he’s the best player in the world thanks to his physical strength, extraordinary technique and, above all, mental fortitude. It was he who dragged the team back into the game when we went behind.”
Portugal coach Fernando Santos
“We should be very proud of the lads and how we overcame the obstacles the match presented us and twice came from behind. We demonstrated character, commitment, pride and personality… A mature team.”
Spain coach Fernando Hierro
What happened next
Both teams progressed from Group B, with Spain finishing top and Portugal second. The final group standings were only settled after a hectic last round of games, in which the Portuguese conceded a stoppage-time goal to allow IR Iran a share of the spoils, and Aspas netted equally late to do the same for La Roja against Morocco.
Both teams would then crash out in the Round of 16: Spain losing on penalties to hosts Russia (1-1, 3-4 pen), and Portugal succumbing to Uruguay (2-1).