The first heavyweight cracker of Russia 2018 was truly a cracker – a mirror of a Champions League match.
First and second blood was Portugal’s but Spain, the 2010 world champions, were up for the fight and replied with a brace from Diego Costa and a stunning volley from Nacho.
But Ronaldo kept the best for the last as he won a free kick off Pique and then delivered an exquisitely perfect kick that was up and down before De Gea could blink. A truly absorbing and enthralling group game that set the marker for the rest of the tournament.
Portugal started the better and got the reward for Spain’s lackadaisical start under three minutes as Nacho upended Cristiano Ronaldo in the box. Ronaldo dusted himself off and sent David de Gea the wrong way.
David Silva got La Roja’s first shooting chance in the box after a good control from Diego Costa but it fell on the Manchester City midfielder’s right foot, and the ball was ballooned over the bar aided by a slight slip.
In the 17th minute, a flick in Portugal’s half from Ronaldo created a scoring chance for Goncalo Guedes, but with no support, he shot against Sergio Ramos. Portugal threatened with their fast counters as Spain chased an equaliser.
Andres Iniesta created another shooting chance for Silva in the 21st minute but he was crowded out for a corner kick. From the ensuing corner, Portugal went on another counter with Ronaldo teeing up Guedes in the box but the Valencia midfielder could not get on the ball in the box.
Three minutes later, Spain were level through Costa. There was some controversy when Spain equalised as the Portuguese moaned that Diego Costa had fouled Pepe in the buildup to the goal.
But what a goal it was with Diego feinted and held up the ball muscularly before powering a right-footer past Rui Patricio. The Italian referee, Gianluca Rocchi consulted VAR, and the goal was given.
Isco then smashed a shot off the underside of the crossbar with Patricio beaten all ends up. Spain were now calling the shots. Ronaldo then shocked Spain again with just a minute left on the clock as his left-footed shot squirmed away from De Gea’s grasp.
The Manchester United goalkeeper had made a similar mistake against Switzerland in a friendly just 12 days ago.
There could be something distracting the goalkeeper and could it the sexual assault saga for which he asked Spain’s Prime Minister for a public apology?
Spain had 68% of the possession in the first half and made 376 passes to Portugal’s 181 but Portugal had the lead from four shots to Spain’s nine. Portugal took the kickoff but Spain were soon on the ball.
Bruno Fernandes robbed Iniesta of the ball and shot wide five minutes into the second half. The tempo of the second half was not as high as it was in the first with Portugal setting up with 11 men behind the ball.
Joao Moutinho fouled Iniesta on 53 minutes to put a stop to the passing and movement causing stress for the Portuguese. But Costa got their second after a good knockdown from Sergio Busquets, who got the better of Guedes in a heading contest at the back post. Again VAR was consulted and again the goal stood.
De Gea had been redeemed and then on 58 minutes as his half-volley went off the post to leave Patricio grasping for thin air. Nacho had given away the penalty from which Portugal took the goal scored his first ever goal for his country – one he will never forget.
It was now Portugal’s turn to seek an equaliser. Ramos’ mistake handed Portugal their first corner in the 62nd minute. Costa should have had his third goal on 70 minutes as a good passing move saw Jordi Alba pass to Costa’s feet but the Atletico Madrid forward could not get his shot on target.
A raft of changes ensued with Fernades and Bernardo Silva pulled out for João Mário and Ricardo Quaresma in the 70th minute just as Iniesta was given a breather with Fernando Hierro sending on Thiago Alcantara. Queresma had a speculative shot at goal but it was high and wide.
Costa left the pitch for Iago Aspas in the 77th minute. Ronaldo tried to get on the end of a high ball in the 79th minute, which left Pique needing some treatment. Andre Silva came on for Guedes as Portugal sent on a central striker as they chased the equaliser.
Ronaldo then tricked Pique into giving away on the edge of the box and then delivered the perfect kick, which had De Gea glued to a spot. His 51st ever hat trick and the 51st hat-trick at a FIFA World Cup.
Ronaldo sat on the pitch with a touch of cram before the referee blew off for an absorbing and thoroughly enthralling match.