At the final whistle, everyone in the stadium knew it – they had just witnessed a classic. And there was a sense of respect that transcended old rivalries. Group stage games rarely get better than this.
When Spain and Portugal were drawn in the same group, football fans all over the globe wetted their lips in anticipation. This game had the potential to be a thriller, but with both nations suffering controversy during the build-up, there was a danger of it turning into a damp squib.
Such fears were allayed in the opening exchanges as Cristiano Ronaldo set the tone for a game that will be remembered for years to come. And it’s rare you can say that about a World Cup group match.
But what did we learn from this pulsating clash?
1 A draw can feel like a win
Momentum can change the dynamic of a football match, sometimes several times in one game.
When Cristiano Ronaldo curled in a late free-kick against Spain to seal his hat-trick and claim a point for Portugal in Group B, it almost felt like a victory. Portugal, although, had twice relinquished a lead during this breath-taking World Cup showdown.
Spain will feel that after wrestling control of the game in the second half, they should have won. And Cristiano Ronaldo will feel that his performance alone perhaps merited all three points.
But in a game in which the momentum swung repeatedly, a 3-3 draw felt like the right outcome.
2 Spain were rocked by the week’s events
It was no surprise that Spain were a little slow out of the box. It had been a tough week for the 2010 winners having dumped their coach at the 11th hour.
Their early attempts at remaining calm and composed were thwarted by Portugal’s eagerness to rock them early, and it cost them.
It took just three minutes for Ronaldo to penetrate Spain’s penalty area, drawing enough contact from Nacho to convince the referee a foul had been committed. With the penalty converted, Spain were forced to dig deep.
But they did not panic, and they did not change their approach. They hit back the only way they know how, by getting the ball on the floor and playing. After a scrappy opening, the game developed into something magical. The football outstanding, the passion and commitment manifest.
3 Diego Costa is no longer a square peg
Diego Costa, often maligned as a cumbersome presence in a team of such grace, showed once again why Julen Lopetegui showed such faith in him. He has adapted to this team, and they have adapted to him, resulting in a congruous union.
Each passage of poetic play now carries the threat of a thrilling conclusion as showed in the 24th minute when the striker toyed with Portugal’s veteran defenders before drilling home from the edge of the box.
It was perhaps the most un-Spanish goal they'd ever scored, with a long ball from Sergio Busquets finding Costa, before he bullied Pepe and Jose Fonte and fired home coolly.
When he bagged his second from close range after 55 minutes, all the momentum was with Spain.
4 Isco is Spain’s best player
The second half was conducted by Isco as Ronaldo drifted to the periphery. The 26-year-old was as the heart of everything as Spain dominated possession and took total control of the game.
KEY STAT: Spain finished the game with 67% possession.
By the time Costa equalised, the football they were playing was out of this world and the third goal seemed inevitable. But it came from an unlikely source, Nacho producing a finish that Carlos Alberto would have been proud of.
In any other game, Isco would have been man-of-the-match. But this wasn’t any other game and Portugal’s own talisman had one last trick up his sleeve.
5 The reinvention of Ronaldo continues
With just a few minutes remaining, Ronaldo emerged from the shadows to line up behind a free kick just outside the area. He had yet to score a free kick at a World Cup in 44 attempts, so expectations should have been low. But this time it felt different.
The 33-year-old had been biding his time, waiting for that one defining moment. And when it came, he took it, and how!
KEY STAT: Ronaldo overtook Netherlands’ Rob Rensenbrink as the oldest World Cup hat-trick scorer in history.
When his career should be in decline, Ronaldo has reacted and transformed the way he plays. He is no longer a dominant force in every game but he knows how to influence them at key moments.
This reinvention of the way he plays has not come overnight. It is something he has managed over time, aware that while his ability remains the years are against him.
He is now more productive and efficient at international level than ever before and that could help Portugal go along way this summer.
What did you learn from this incredible game? Let us know in the comments below...
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