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Ronaldo nets hat trick for Portugal in thrilling 3-3 draw with Spain

The marquee group stage fixture of the 2018 World Cup did not disappoint as Cristiano Ronaldo bagged a hat trick in a thrilling 3-3 draw between Portugal and Spain at Fisht Olympic Stadium in Sochi.

It was appropriately Ronaldo who got things started when he won and converted a penalty to give Portugal the lead inside of the game’s first five minutes. There were barely three minutes on the clock when the Real Madrid superstar marauded his way into the Spanish box, was clipped by Nacho and tumbled over obligingly in what was a clear penalty.

Ronaldo celebrates scoring in Portugal’s thrilling 3-3 draw with Spain (Getty).

After a quick VAR review, Ronaldo stepped up and coolly dispatched a right-footed shot into the corner as Spain keeper David DeGea dove the other way, making it 1-0. The goal was Ronaldo’s first ever against Spain and marked him as one of only a handful of players to have scored in four different World Cup finals.

Spain pulled level just moments later through Diego Costa, who controlled a long ball from Sergio Busquets, elbowed away a challenge from Pepe and turned past Jose Fonte, before slotting a low shot to the corner past a diving Rui Patricio to level the score at 1-1.

Moments later Spain looked to have retaken the lead through an edge-of-the-box volley from Isco that rebounded off the underside of the crossbar.

Ronaldo struck again just before halftime to restore the Portuguese lead. Goncalo Guedes controlled a long ball and squared it for his captain, who had time and space to place a low, powerful shot that inexplicably slid from De Gea’s grasp and rolled into the goal.

Spain retook the lead 10 minutes into the second half after Andres Iniesta drew a foul and won a freekick in a good position. Silva floated the ball in to Busquets at the back post, who headed it across the face of the goal for Costa, who made no mistake in poking in his second career World Cup goal from close range.

The dust had barely settled on Costa’s effort when Nacho fired Spain into a 3-2 lead, blasting an effort from the edge of the box that curled around Fonte before going in at the far post, leaving a diving Patricio no chance.

Costa came close to completing his hat trick in a 70th-minute opportunity that saw Jordi Alba bombing up from the fullback position and pulling the ball back for the Brazilian-born striker. But Costa uncharacteristically pulled his effort wide.

In the end, it would be Ronaldo who would complete his first career World Cup hat trick. The Real Madrid attacker was fouled just outside the box in the 85th minute. With less than five minutes of regulation time remaining on the clock, Ronaldo stepped up and curled a shot up and around the Spanish wall into the top corner, settling the score at 3-3.

VAR seems to be working

Much has been made of FIFA opting use VAR in this tournament. But in the three major instances in this match when it was called into play, the Ronaldo penalty, the challenge on Pepe, and the Isco crossbar hit, the decisions were made quickly and unobtrusively. In short, it seems to be working.

No manager, no problem for Spain

It was said before kickoff that if there was a team in the World Cup capable of carrying out its gameplan without its manager, it was Spain. Indeed, the 2010 World Cup champs showed little to suggest that the unexpected sacking of manager Julen Lopetegui just two days before the tournament had unduly affected them. By contrast, the Spanish team turned in a strong performance against Portugal, putting together their usual elaborate passing sequences and utterly dominating possession at times, despite giving up the late equalizer.

Ronaldo’s greatest-ever performance?

In a word, probably. Ronaldo has scored plenty of huge goals and had plenty of big-game performances. But a hat trick in the World Cup? Against Spain? Few players have scored hat tricks in World Cup matches to begin with, let alone at the age of 33, and against one of the favorites. We have very probably just witnessed the single greatest performance of Cristiano Ronaldo’s career, certainly at the international level anyway.

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