What to do with David de Gea, Portugal’s over-reliance on Ronaldo and a run from Iran – all this and other musings from Group B
1) No Lopetegui, no problem
Ultimately, Julen Lopetegui’s sacking had little or no impact on the way Spain performed and was coached against Portugal. In a foretaste of things to come, Fernando Hierro inherited and made good use of Lopetegui’s playbook both in the starting line-up and second-half subs.
Diego Costa’s excellent brace will surely grant him a spot as a starter in the remaining games, effectively ending the forward debate: Iago Aspas and Rodrigo will have to be patient. Also, Nacho’s rocket of a screamer vindicated his choice, though the obvious change will be picking a recovered Carvajal in upcoming showdowns.
2) Spain look better than expected
Before the Portugal clash, there was quite the excitement in checking out Spain’s form after a long La Liga season and everything that went down in the days running up to the match. And from a strict football point of view, they performed pretty well against Portugal: excellent ball-passing in the second half, and a great attitude to twice bounce back from behind.
La Roja have reasons enough to spin the opening 3-3 draw into optimistic news for them. Should they continue to play as they did on Friday, they will win the contest 90% of the time.
3) Cristiano Ronaldo is Portugal’s only hope
What about Portugal? A harsh penalty, a huge mistake by the opposition keeper and a riotous rocket of a free-kick. Their game, was distilled down to three facts. And Cristiano Ronaldo was involved in all of them.
At the end of the day, the Portuguese striker was able to make the most of the three big chances he had. The rest of the team, however, wasn’t particularly inspired. Spain ran circles around them in the second half. Even if we consider Iran and Morocco as much weaker sides, the team will have to ramp up their efforts if they hope to do well without relying 100% on Cristiano.
Feliz por ter sido eleito o melhor em campo. Bom trabalho de equipa!🇵🇹👍🏽 pic.twitter.com/EjLIZxp3Dm
— Cristiano Ronaldo (@Cristiano) June 16, 2018
4) The De Gea controversy is on
De Gea’s enormous blooper in the 2-1 wasn’t the keeper’s only mistake on Friday: the Spaniard also troubled his defence with a half-run on a loose ball which ended with de Gea crashing into Gerard Piqué. Add a couple more epic fails in the friendlies before the tournament into the mix and Houston, indeed, we *do* have a problem.
National coach Fernando Hierro and other teammates such as Sergio Ramos were quick to provide support for the Manchester United goalie, but the feeling amongst fans is a bit different. De Gea’s reiterated mistakes, when combined with the good form and quality of Athletic’s keeper Kepa, may prove two powerful reasons for a switch in that position in further matches.
5) Three points for Iran
After an absolutely awful game, full of mishaps and bloopers on both sides, Iran became the new and surprising leader of Group B (0-1). Morocco tried to score and dominated for 94 minutes…and an own-goal in the 95th minute allowed Carlos Queiroz’s men to come away with three points and laugh out of the ordeal. Who said unexpected things didn’t happen in a World Cup?