Crissy touch down… the whole place shell down! (Best read aloud over a soca beat).
The Russia 2018 World Cup had lift off today as Portugal and Spain raised the roof in a entertaining 3-3 clash in Sochi.
Cristiano Ronaldo got a hattrick for Portugal—who, lest we forget, are the reigning European champions—to become only the fourth player to score in three World Cups, after Brazil’s Pele (1958-1970) and the German pair of Uwe Seeler (1958-1970) and Miroslav Klose (2002 to 2014).
But Spain were well worth their point with a Diego Costa double and a solitary strike from right back, Nacho.
It was an exciting end to the day’s four contests, which also included Egypt v Uruguay, Morocco v Iran and CNC3 v DirecTV.
The latter contest was a slow burner but not without some surprise twists. CNC3 started their World Cup coverage with a feed that had no clock, score panel or even names of the competing teams, before switching to a DirecTV feed and then spending half the day trying to block the latter’s logo.
Still, the CNC3 production crew could rightly claim to have been better at their jobs today than Uruguay’s Luis Suarez.
At the Brazil 2014 World Cup, Suarez bit. At Russia 2018 so far, he has merely sucked—although Egypt goalkeeper Mohamed El Shenawy had something to do with that, as he turned in a superb performance between the uprights.
Egypt—with talisman Mo Salah on the bench and still recovering from Real Madrid defender Sergio Ramos’ impromptu judo lesson in the European Champions League final—could not hang on though, as they conceded a last minute headed goal to Uruguay defender Jose Giminez.
No Salah, mo problems.
There was a late winner in the contest between Morocco and Iran as well, although Moroccan substitute Aziz Bouhaddouz would not want to be reminded of it as he headed into the wrong net.
It was only Iran’s second ever win at a World Cup finals with their last triumph coming 20 years ago with a 1-0 win over USA at France 1998. And it was almost certainly more than the Asian team deserved with a style of play that was more negative than a minus sign.
No shortage of action in the curtain closer though.
Spain had opted to entrust the tactical direction of their 2018 World Cup team to novice coach Fernando Hierro, whose only previous experience on the bench was to be released after one season with second tier club, Oviedo.
And if his first test was to find a way to nullify Ronaldo, well he’d better hope that the ‘cussbud’ UTT lecturer isn’t the one who will be marking his paper.
Ronaldo, whose previous World Cup goals came against global football heavies Iran (2006), North Korea (2010) and Ghana (2014), needed less than three minutes to leave his mark on a proper powerhouse—and the country whose wages pay for his spa treatments—with his opener coming from a soft penalty he won off Real Madrid teammate, Nacho.
If ever there was a man who loses all sense of balance and self-restraint when he sees a bit of leg in the box… Well, let’s say Ronaldo runs a close second to Diego Martin Central MP Darryl Smith in that regard.
Ronaldo’s second goal came in the 44th minute with a speculative, low left footer that was fumbled into the net by Spain custodian David De Gea. Clearly, it was Ramos’ fault, although we don’t quite know how yet.
Each time, Spain drew level through the bullish, perpetually upset Costa—probably the one millionaire footballer who could enter Sea Lots at night and leave with his jewellery intact.
And then, it looked like the 2018 World Cup had its first redemptive story, as Nacho, a diabetic, put Spain ahead in the 58th minute with a sweet volley that went in off the upright.
But Ronaldo had the last word, as he finished his ridiculous pre-free kick routine—complete with dramatic steps backward, playing with his shorts, puffing his cheeks, fixing his eyebrows, adjusting his rear view mirror, etc, etc—with an outrageous effort that curled around the wall and flew into the top corner for his hattrick.
Phew! It was, according to one bit of trivia, Ronaldo’s free kick goal in a major international tournament after 45 failed attempts. Portugal fans would probably say it was worth the wait.
Tomorrow morning, Lionel Messi leads Argentina on to the field to face Iceland in Group D action. How the hell does he match that?
(Friday 15 June)
Egypt 0, Uruguay 1 (Jose Giminez 90), Group A, Ekaterinburg;
Morocco 0, Iran 1 (Aziz Bouhaddouz OG 90+5), Group B, St Petersburg;
Portugal 3 (Cristiano Ronaldo 3 pen, 44 , 88), Spain 3 (Diego Costa 24, 55, Nacho 58), Group B, Sochi;
(Saturday 16 June)
France v Australia, 6am, Group C, Kazan;
Argentina v Iceland, 9am, Group D, Moscow;
Peru v Denmark, 12pm, Group C, Saransk;
Croatia v Nigeria, 3pm, Group D, Kalinigrad.