A screen displays an image of Portugal’s forward Cristiano Ronaldo with the text “Man of the Match” at the end of the Russia 2018 World Cup Group B football match between Portugal and Spain at the Fisht Stadium in Sochi on June 15, 2018. — AFP
SAINT PETERSBURG: The blockbuster clash of the day at the World Cup didn’t disappoint as Cristiano Ronaldo’s hat-trick denied Spain the perfect response to a turbulent week following the sacking of Julen Lopetegui in a thrilling 3-3 draw in Sochi.
Both sides will remain confident of progressing to the knockout stages as Iran shocked Morocco 1-0 in Saint Petersburg to move to the top of Group B.
And in a day dominated by late goals, Jose Gimenez’s header handed Uruguay a perfect start by beating an Egypt side shorn of Mohamed Salah 1-0.
Here, AFP Sports looks at three things we learned from day two at the World Cup.
Ronaldo reigns supreme in Sochi
Spain’s troublesome week looked set for a much-needed win until Ronaldo curled home a sensational free-kick to cap a hat-trick and salvage Portugal a point two minutes from time.
Ronaldo had scored just three goals in his previous three World Cups, but already looks a strong favourite to win the Golden Boot as he won then dispatched a fourth minute penalty and took advantage of an uncharacteristic error from David de Gea to twice put Portugal in front before the break.
Diego Costa had silenced suggestions he is incompatible with Spain’s short-passing game with a double of his own before Nacho’s wonder strike looked to have sealed the perfect debut for Fernando Hierro just two days after he was handed the job as Spain coach.
But the five-time World Player of the Year wasn’t to be denied when he lined up a free-kick 20 yards from goal before bending it over the Spanish wall and dipping perfectly into the top corner.
Egypt relying on Salah return
Salah endured a miserable 26th birthday as he was forced to watch from the bench with his injured shoulder not quite recovered as Uruguay snatched all three points in Yekaterinburg.
Egypt manager Hector Cuper had claimed on the eve of the game Salah was “almost 100% sure” to feature.
But with his side holding out against the firepower of Luis Suarez and Edison Cavani until the 89th minute, Cuper elected against risking Salah as a substitute.
With Russia thrashing Saudi Arabia 5-0 in Group A’s opening match, Egypt will almost certainly need to beat the hosts in Saint Petersburg on Tuesday to progress to the last 16.
Salah carried the Pharaohs to their first World Cup since 1990 and his quick return is paramount to avoid a tournament Egyptians have looked forward to for so long ending prematurely.
Morocco ‘crucify’ themselves
Morocco coach Herve Renard lamented a series of self-inflicted wounds as their return to the World Cup after a 20-year wait ended in the most heartbreaking fashion when Aziz Bouhaddouz’s 95th minute own goal handed Iran a famous 1-0 win in Saint Petersburg.
The Atlas Lions dominated for the opening half hour, but failed to take their chances through Hakim Ziyach, Ayoub El Kaabi and Mehdi Benatia.
Morocco qualified on the back of six consecutive clean sheets in qualifying, and they were only undone by one of their own when a distraught Bouhaddouz threw himself at a last ditch free-kick and bulleted the ball home at the near post.
With the might of Spain and Portugal to come in Group B, Morocco’s chances of now making the last 16 hang by a thread.
“We were crucified by our own errors,” lamented Renard. — AFP