Fernando Hierro, the manager who admitted he “never expected” to be standing on the touchline at the World Cup, said he has “no doubts” about David de Gea despite him gifting Portugal a goal and praised his team’s “personality” in overcoming adversity after three tumultuous days. The Portugal manager Fernando Santos meanwhile insisted Cristiano Ronaldo was the best player in the world following his hat-trick to secure a 3-3 draw in their opening match against Spain in Sochi, saying: “I’m glad he’s Portuguese.” He also expressed his hopes that Ronaldo would still be around and scoring goals in Qatar in four years’ time.
Spain had been thrown into crisis when it was announced their coach Julen Lopetegui had agreed to take over at Real Madrid after the World Cup, just two days before the tournament started, prompting the president of the football federation to sack him the following day.
But, despite going a goal to Portugal down within four minutes, they twice came back to equalise and even took the lead before a last-minute Ronaldo free-kick made the final score 3-3. Hierro, called upon to take over the team as an emergency measure, said: “We have to be very proud at the way they overcame adversity. They showed character, conviction, pride, and personality.
“This is a team that has no doubts,” Hierro added. “It knows what it wants, how to play. It is a pleasure to work with these players, who have shown such maturity, personality and desire. It’s a question of character and they do not doubt. These have not been easy days, at all. I am very grateful to every one of them, and all the staff, who adapted rapidly in difficult circumstances. I repeat, it hasn’t been easy.”
Asked about De Gea, who allowed Ronaldo’s shot to slip off his hands for the second goal, Hierro said: “I embraced him and that’s it. We know that goalkeeper is a special position, with a special psychology, and we have no doubts about him at all. None. We’re a team. We’re a family and we will not leave anyone aside. We don’t have the slightest doubt about any member of the family.
“When you have a star like Ronaldo, a detail can change a game,” Hierro admitted. “It’s lucky for whoever has him. I have a great relationship with him, he’s a great lad, but I wouldn’t change him for any of mine.”
Ronaldo’s hat-trick makes him the first player to score in four consecutive World Cups. “I’ve said it so many times: he’s the best in the world and I hope in Qatar he will score again,” Santos said. “People talk about his physical condition but mentally he is so strong. I’m glad he’s Portuguese.”