At the start of the World Cup if someone told you that Spain and Portugal have to wait till the last second of their final group matches to secure qualification for the next round I am sure you would have laughed it off.
But, both Spain and Portugal actually had to sweat out some late nervous moments before advancing to the second round.
It was a night of football marred with bad tempers and high tension – and as it turned out VAR was the hero of the night.
In Saransk, the importance of the match got better off Iran them as they looked tensed in the first half of the game with their defense caught napping quite a number of times. Lucky for the Iranians, Ronaldo and Co couldn’t take advantage of that.
The young Iranian goalkeeper Alireza made a quite number of slip ups in the box. But the Iranians tackled hard for most part of the match with occasional forays up front.
Before the game, Iran’s Portuguese coach, Carlos Queiroz, had called the Portugal team “Cristiano Ronaldo and a group of players who run after him”.
But tonight, it wasn’t Ronaldo but a Ronaldo-like skill from Ricardo Quaresma that saved the game for the Portuguese side just before halftime.
Taking the ball on, Quaresma curled a superb shot with the outside of his boot across the keeper, into the top corner.
As they say If Messi does something how can Cristiano Ronaldo be far behind. After converting a penalty in their opener against Spain – Ronaldo missed a penalty against Iran as Alireza redeemed himself. Ronaldo has now missed six of his last 14 penalty kicks.
It seemed as if Portugal would hold out for the win but there was much drama to follow: first there was a VAR decision on the Ronaldo which eventually saw him get a yellow card and then Iran’s fourth penalty appeal, which was again referred to video assistants. Iran’s Ansarifard made no mistake from the spot to help Iran equalise.
But in the end Portugal survived.
In Kaliningard, Spain’s captain Sergio Ramos and Iniesta were involved in an early error which led to Morocco’s first goal – as Khalid Boutaïb slipped the ball through David De Hea’s legs.
Despite trailing, Spain held their composure and soon equalised through Isco – which saw an array of passes between Iniesta, Isco, Diego Costa, Iniesta , Isco before going into the net
In the second half the Spanish defense were in all sorts of trouble as Morocco screeched forward opening up the Spanish defense. But After few tense moment Spain retaliated and showed some urgency. Coach Hierro introduced Asensio and Aspas.
Spain had 15 minutes to claim first place, but they needed two goals. But it was Morocco who went ahead with - Youssef En-Nesyri header. Spain who were fighting with Portugal for the first place – were now feeling jittery. Soon, Aspas scored the late equaliser – which took three minutes to be given – courtesy VAR.
By the time the final whistle was blown Iran too had scored
And Spain got what they wanted – a first place finish in Group B – ahead of Portugal on virtue of number of goals scored.
Now, Spain will be facing Russia from Group A and Portugal will take on Group A toppers Uruguay.
Uruguay look confident after keeping three clean sheets – And both Cavani and Suarez are also now among goals, so it won’t be an easy task for Ronaldo and his side. As far as Spain is concerned – playing Russia in Moscow is always a tricky business and they would love Russia to attack so that they can break them down. But again, Spain’s defense might be a problem – they have already conceded five goals.