- Ronaldo (4, 44, 88)
- Diego Costa (24, 55)
- Nacho (58)
Cristiano Ronaldo stole the headlines as his hat-trick secured a dramatic draw for Portugal in a six-goal thriller with Spain in Group B of the 2018 World Cup finals. Spain were close to securing a 3-2 victory before the Real Madrid forward sent a sublime free-kick into the top corner in the 88th minute to deny Fernando Hierro his first win since replacing Julen Lopetegui the day before the tournament kicked off. Here, our professional coaches analyse the tactics and key moments of the action from a dramatic night in Sochi’s Fisht Olympic Stadium, where Diego Costa also scored twice but Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea experienced an uncomfortable evening.
Portugal set up in a fairly orthodox 4-4-2, with William Carvalho and Joao Moutinho in the centre of midfield, supported by Bernardo Silva and Bruno Fernandes out wide. Cristiano Ronaldo joined Goncalo Guedes up top, but the Real Madrid forward had the licence to roam freely in the final third.
Portugal demonstrated a clear bias early on in attacking down the left side and targeting Spain right-back Nacho. They attempted to overload the Spanish full-back and create opportunities in behind him or between him and Gerard Pique. The overload would be provided by Fernandes, left-back Raphael Guerreiro and Ronaldo, who would drift from his centre-forward position.
It was from this movement that Ronaldo was able to get on the ball and drive at Nacho to win the penalty for the opening goal. This method of attack could have yielded more goals, with three promising chances created in the opening five minutes.
When Spain gained control of the game, Portugal’s key threat became the counter-attack – again with Ronaldo the main figure. His play with his back to goal was exceptional, as was the speed and intensity with which he joined the counter-attack after setting the ball to a teammate.
In Portugal’s build-up play, there were three main routes. One was a direct pass from either goalkeeper Rui Patricio or one of the defenders towards Ronaldo, who would generally win the aerial battle. The likes of William and Moutinho would then try to win the second ball. Another method was the overloading of the wide areas, and the third was the counter-attack, from which Portugal could well have scored another two goals.
Out of possession, Portugal were fairly pragmatic and operated in two banks of four, with Ronaldo joining Guedes in the front line of two. Fernando Santos’ team were perhaps wary of being pulled apart by Spain’s fluid movement and rotation, so tried to keep the organisation simple with Moutinho and William ensuring that nothing came through the middle.
The issue with this, however, was that Spain rarely used or occupied the central spaces to create. Portugal therefore had two players in the middle covering space that wasn’t being used or threatened. It was only the pass into Diego Costa’s feet that they needed to be cautious of.
At 3-2 down, Portugal began to press aggressively. This suited Spain, as they were gifted more space between their opponents’ units to play. Chasing the game, Portugal had little choice but to take this risk – and it paid off with Ronaldo’s late equaliser.
Portugal set up in a 4-4-2 that would also look like a 4-2-4 or even 2-4-4 when they were building attacks.
Portugal organised into a 4-4-2 mid-block out of possession and would try to deny Spain space to play through the middle.
Portugal showed a clear bias towards attacking down the left side in the early stages. They ensured that Ronaldo was near to that side to try and take advantage of Nacho and the space between and behind him.
Spain set up in a 4-3-3 in possession with fluid movement between individuals in all units.
Spain showed variety in their structure out of possession. One variation was the 4-5-1 pictured here, which they used having just levelled the game at 1-1.
The two triangles of Isco, Andres Iniesta and Jordi Alba on the left, and Nacho, David Silva and Koke on the right, were key to Spain’s build-up.
Spain set up in a 4-3-3 formation, with Sergio Busquets at the base of the central three in midfield, Andres Iniesta on the left side and Koke on the right. Isco and David Silva supported Diego Costa in attack.
In possession, the width was created by the full-backs or the wide midfielders. Typically, Isco and Silva would drift in centrally, allowing Nacho and Jordi Alba to push forward and support the attack out wide. Busquets provided the cover in front of Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique, which was his main job throughout the match.
Busquets took up these covering positions not only for the full-backs, but occasionally for the centre-backs when Ramos would look to break a line with a dribble. The Barcelona man was typically effective in providing the cover and the safety ‘return’ pass, should the player on the ball get into trouble.
The key to Spain’s exceptional build was the relationship between the two triangles formed by Isco, Iniesta and Alba on the left, and Nacho, Koke and Silva on the right. Spain rarely used the central areas to try and penetrate, leaving William and Moutinho to protect idle space.
Spain preferred to build using the half-spaces, which moved Portugal’s central defenders out of position from the middle of the goal and into the wide areas. The Spanish players on the opposite side could then attack the vacated spaces further on in the attack.
The common pattern was for Koke or Iniesta to drop into the space between the centre-back and full-back. The full-back (Alba or Nacho) would then push much wider and higher up the pitch while the winger (Isco or Silva) would be free to come inside to the half-space, causing a real problem for the Portugal full-backs and wingers.
These movements, coupled with the late arrival on the far side into the vacated space, were an integral part of Nacho’s brilliant goal to put Spain ahead. Fernando Hierro’s team also had the direct pass and counter-attacking threat available due to the deployment of Diego Costa up front – and this is how they scored their first goal.
At 3-2 up, Iago Aspas came on and often operated in a false nine position, which created an extra man ahead of the midfield in an attempt to help control the and manage the game through possession.
Spain experimented with different phases out of possession, depending on the state of the game. In the initial stages they weren’t too keen to press, but when Portugal went ahead they had a greater reason to go and retrieve the ball.
The initial set-up was a 4-5-1 mid-block – easily transferable from a 4-2-3-1. After going a goal behind, the press became a 4-2-3-1, with Koke joining Busquets in the deeper two and Iniesta pushing into a number 10 position to support Costa, Silva and Isco in the first two lines of the press.
Spain would generally try to show Portugal wide and win the ball near the touchline where three players – the wide midfielder, the nearest central midfielder and the full-back on that side – would trap them.
When Spain were 3-2 up they played a variation of formations to defend: 4-4-2, 4-5-1 and 5-4-1. The 4-4-2 tended to be when the ball was in Portugal’s half, regressing into a 4-5-1 when the ball came into Spain’s half and then a 5-4-1 when the ball reached Spain’s defensive third.