Spain and Portugal ensured World Cup Group B kicked off with a flyer as they played out a sensational 3-3 draw that saw Cristiano Ronaldo score a late hat-trick.
The 2010 champions Spain kicked off their 2018 campaign in a clash of the titans in the group against Portugal. Fernando Hierro took charge of Spain, after they sacked Julen Lopetegui less than 48 hours before the start of the World Cup.
Ronaldo puts Portugal in control
Portugal started the brighter of the two sides and were quickly rewarded as some quick footwork from Portugal’s main man Ronaldo saw him brought down by his Real Madrid team mate Nacho in the penalty area, with just three minutes on the clock. Referee Gianluca Rocchi awarded the spot kick, and Ronaldo made no mistake in dispatching his penalty to David De Gea's left.
A bright start by Portugal quickly dampened as Spain started to liven up, a long ball from the Spanish defence found Diego Costa who did well to hold of the attention of Pepe, as he drove into the box and dispatched a low powerful drive past Rui Patrício. That was Costa's first ever shot on target and goal at a World Cup.
Spain began to dominate the ball, but still had to be wary of Portugal’s speedy counter attacks as Ronaldo found Gonçalo Guedes in a dangerous position. Spain continued to press on into what was becoming the best opening 30 minutes of the tournament so far, as just under 30 minutes on the clock Isco saw a powerful drive cannon of the underside of the bar, but the ball was deemed not to have crossed the line.
As the first half progressed Spain continued to pile the pressure on as Portugal looked like they needed the half time whistle.
However against the run of play with five minutes to half time, Ronaldo picked up a loose ball on the edge of the Spain box, and unleashed a shot straight down the centre of the goal which escaped the clutches of the Manchester United goalkeeper De Gea and rolled into the net to take Portugal into a 2-1 half time lead.
Ronaldo free-kick denies Spain win
Ronaldo and Portugal kicked off the second half, but the half started with the same story as the first with long spells of Spanish possession with Portugal looking dangerous on the counter attack.
A dull opening five minutes quickly exploded into life as Spain scored two goals in just five minutes to overturn the deficit. Some neat footwork from Andrés Iniesta saw them win a free-kick 30 yards from goal. David Silva's free-kick was met by Sergio Busquets and Costa was on hand to tap into an empty net for his second of the game.
Spain continued to press and were quickly rewarded by some smart play down the Spanish left flank by Silva and Jordi Alba as they worked there way to the edge of the box where the ball was met from 20 yards from the unlikely source of Nacho filling in at right back. He met the ball sweetly with the outside of his right foot and the ball crashed in off the post and into the back of the net.
Spain continued to play with a swagger and a spring in their step as they comfortably held the ball and controlled the tempo of the game restricting Portugal to very few efforts in the second half.
After going 3-2 up, Spain began to take the sting out the game as they looked comfortable with holding onto their one-goal advantage, the introduction of Thiago proved this with the midfielder’s superb ability to hold on and dictate the pace of the game.
With four minutes to go, Gerald Piqué fouled Ronaldo just outside the box. Ronaldo dusted himself off and stepped up to take the kick himself.
Ronaldo stood poised behind the ball before unleashing an effort that went over the wall and dipped under the crossbar to draw the game 3-3 with minutes remaining, completing Ronaldo’s 51st career hattrick to steal a point in the dying embers for Portugal.
Honours even in what has been the game of the tournament and what will arguably remain that way come the tournaments conclusion. A 3-3 draw sees Spain and Portugal level on points behind Iran on 3 points and 1 point ahead of Morocco in Group B.