It was one of the most talked about matchups of the group stage. And we got one of the most entertaining World Cup matches in recent memory. In Group B, Spain and Portugal played out a wild six-goal thriller, with the teams drawing 3-3. Spain overcame a 2-1 deficit to take the lead in the second half before Cristiano Ronaldo completed his hat trick with a crazy late free-kick goal.
Cristiano Ronaldo scored a dramatic late free-kick to complete his first World Cup hat-trick and rescue a point for Portugal after a thrilling 3-3 draw against Spain in Sochi.
Spain, who lost their manager Julen Lopetegui on the eve of the tournament, were seemingly heading towards victory after coming from behind twice to lead 3-2 with just minutes remaining, but Ronaldo, who became the first player to score in eight consecutive major tournaments, denied them right at the death on Friday night.
All World Cup finals need great players to do great things and there are few who intervene more consistently at the crossroads of the game’s history than Cristiano Ronaldo, king of the big stage and all that happens on it.
Just a hat-trick to declare in this, his 151st cap for Portugal against the great Spain generation of the 21st century, including a third from a free-kick which was one of those moments when he insists that the world stops what it is doing to watch. He hitched up his shorts, shut his eyes for a moment, took a deep breath and then clipped a right-foot shot around the wall so accurately that David de Gea did not even spring for it.
This was a World Cup game for all the ages and if Russia 2018 had so far been about narrow margins and small nations overachieving, then this was the deluxe edition featuring two great sides and ultimately one historical footballer.
These were Ronaldo’s 82nd, 83rd and 84th goals of a golden international career over which his game has changed but his contribution has always been immense to Portugal, a better team now than the Euro 2016 winners, but still trying to keep pace with their star man.
At 33, Ronaldo can no longer do as much as he would like in games so he just sticks to doing the most important things. No side know him better than Spain, no defence have more experience of playing with and against him, and yet Ronaldo locates vulnerability wherever he goes and against whoever he plays.
His hat-trick came on the day it was announced he had struck an €18.8 million (£16.4 million) deal with the Spanish exchequer over his tax evasion case, and after this breathless game had finished it was tempting to think that this was the price he was determined to exact.
These goals meant that he became only the fourth man in history to score in four World Cup finals and the first to do so in eight straight international tournaments, and it is not simply that he did so, it was also that he knew that he had to.
It was not a hat-trick against any side, it was against Spain and it took someone as remarkable as Ronaldo to overshadow a masterful centre-forward performance from Diego Costa, who scored twice.
“It’s a personal best which is beautiful, it is one more [achievement] on my record,” Ronaldo said later, “but to me it is about what the team has done. We’ve played one of the favourites for the World Cup and been in the lead twice. We almost got all three points, and then we got the draw. We’re happy about that.”