SOCHI, Russian Federation, Jun 15 – Cristiano Ronaldo scored a magnificent hat-trick on Friday to rescue a point for Portugal against Spain in the dying minutes as the World Cup in Russia caught alight.
Ronaldo’s 51st career hat-trick in the 3-3 draw cancelled out two goals from Diego Costa and a strike from Nacho just as Spain looked like putting their chaotic week behind them with a morale-boosting win.
Elsewhere on day two of the tournament in Russia, Egypt left out Mohamed Salah and suffered a gut-wrenching 1-0 defeat in the final minutes to Uruguay, while Iran snatched a last-gasp win against Morocco courtesy of an own goal.
The Group B clash between Ronaldo’s European champions and 2010 World Cup winners Spain in Sochi was a red-letter day on the competition’s calendar and it did not disappoint.
It was given added spice after the Spanish federation sacked Julen Lopetegui on the eve of the tournament after Real Madrid announced he would be taking over at the Bernabeu following the tournament.
Former Real stalwart Fernando Hierro has been thrown into the deep end as head coach, with little coaching experience and huge pressure on his shoulders.
Hierro watched from the sidelines as his team edged ahead 3-2 in the second half after twice battling back from behind in the match in the Black Sea resort city.
Ronaldo opened the scoring in the fourth minute from a penalty that he himself won and struck again on the cusp of half-time when Spain goalkeeper David de Gea failed to make a routine save.
Both times Atletico Madrid’s Costa equalised and Spain took the lead through Nacho in the 58th minute, who struck the ball sweetly past Portugal goalkeeper Rui Patricio.
Spain appeared to be in control in the closing stages but when Ronaldo was awarded a free kick on the edge of the area the stadium held its breath.
The Real Madrid man took his time lining up the shot before delivering emphatically, curling the ball past the despairing dive of De Gea.
– Salah not risked –
In the first match of the day Urugyuan defender Jose Gimenez headed in an 89th-minute match winner as the South Americans defeated an Egyptian side sorely missing star player Salah in Yekaterinburg.
Uruguay’s last-gasp victory leaves them and Russia in early control in Group A after the hosts thrashed Saudi Arabia 5-0 in the tournament opener on Thursday.
Salah, who has been receiving intensive treatment on a shoulder he injured in the Champions League final, played no part in the match despite Egypt coach Hector Cuper saying beforehand that the Liverpool striker would be involved.
After the defeat, Cuper said: “He did not play today because we wanted to avoid risk or danger, but I think that he will be fine for the next match.”
FIFA said they were investigating why there were large sections of empty seats at the Yekaterinburg Arena. The attendance was 27,015 despite FIFA saying most of the tickets had been sold for the match at the 33,061-capacity stadium.
In the other Group B match on Friday, Iran’s players stormed the pitch at full-time as if they had won the World Cup rather than just their opening match after an own goal from Morocco’s Aziz Bouhaddouz gifted them a dramatic 1-0 victory in Saint Petersburg.
Iran coach Carlos Queiroz, once of Real Madrid and Manchester United, insisted the chaos that has engulfed Spain this week offered little assistance to his team, but this victory certainly cranks the pressure up a notch.
“Superman is only in the cartoons,” Queiroz said. “Nobody is superman. What can happen once in a while is when a group of people are united, can create super stories and super things.”
Iceland coach Heimir Hallgrimsson warned Lionel Messi’s Argentina will underestimate his World Cup debutants at their peril in Saturday’s Group D opener.
Hallgrimsson said the Icelanders, who famously dumped England out of Euro 2016 on their way to the quarter-finals, were primed for their first-ever match in football’s global showpiece.
“We’ve shown that if we work together as one unit, like we’ve been doing, then anything is achievable and it won’t come as a shock,” he said.