Spain and Portugal draw in thrilling battle on the Black Sea





Sochi, Russia - By Mark Corrigan, - A hat-trick from Cristiano Ronaldo helped Portugal draw 3-3 with Spain in World Cup Group B on Friday after an gripping clash amid the evening heat of the Black Sea resort of Sochi.



 
Ronaldo slotted home a penalty to put Portugal 1-0 up after just 2 minutes, but Diego Costa equalized for Spain on 24 minutes. Then, right on half-time, David De Gea let a Ronaldo snapshot slip through his fingers and Portugal went in 2-1 up at the break.
Costa made up for his keeper's mistake to level at 2-2 on 55 minutes before Nacho put Spain ahead for the first time three minutes later. But a trademark free-kick from Ronaldo two minutes from time sealed his hat-trick and capped a fascinating duel between the two old rivals.
The result leaves both teams on one point after one game, with Iran topping the group after beating Morocco earlier on Friday. On Wednesday Portugal face Morocco in Moscow, while Spain take on Iran in Kazan.
This was just the second meeting of the Iberian neighbours at the World Cup, with Portugal looking to redress the balance following Spain's 1-0 last-16 win in South Africa in 2010.
All the talk before the game had centred on former coach Julen Lopetegui's sacking, after the Spanish football federation was informed of his decision to join Real Madrid once the tournament ends. The news came just minutes before it was made public. Would Spain be thrown into chaos?
In a whirlwind start, it seemed as though they had been. Portugal began fiercely, David Silva twice gave away the ball and a Ronaldo stepover in the penalty area drew a foul from his Real Madrid team-mate Nacho.
Ronaldo fired home to David De Gea's left and Spain were one down. The goal saw the Portuguese superstar join Pele, Uwe Seeler and Miroslav Klose in having scored at four World Cup finals - but Ronaldo wasn't finished there.
Yet Spain began to pass their way into the game, the way Fernando Hierro had said they would, and, on 24 minutes, Diego Costa struck at Portugal's weak spot - their central defence - turning them inside out and thumping a low shot past Rui Patricio to make it 1-1.
Two minutes later, Spain's Isco cracked a shot off the underside of the bar and it was Portugal's turn to look all over the place, unable to break out of their own half as Spain dominated possession.
But, as half-time approached, a Ronaldo shapshot from the edge of the box, hit straight at De Gea, somehow slipped through the Manchester United man's fingers and Portugal once more had the lead.
Following a similarly costly error in a friendly against Switzerland on June 3, questions will now be asked as to whether De Gea will retain his place for Spain's game against Iran on Wednesday.
Costa then dug his goalkeeper out of a hole with his second to restore parity after the break, tapping in after a free-kick was knocked down to him. 
Then Nacho's gorgeous volley, curling in off the post, put Spain in front for the first time. Hierro's men asserted that familiarly iron grip on possession and it looked like they would see out the game from there.
But there was to be one last blow in this battle of the Black Sea - and there were no surprises as to who struck it.
On his 151st appearance for his country, Ronaldo stepped up and, from around 25 metres out, stroked a beautiful free-kick into the top corner to set the seal on a scintillating 90 minutes.

 


Friday, June 15th 2018
By Mark Corrigan,
           


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