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Cristiano Ronaldo seizes the limelight with World Cup hat-trick against Spain
Portugal captain earns his country 3-3 draw in Russia 2018 thriller
Last Updated: 15/06/18 11:11pm
The focus was on Spain before kick-off but Cristiano Ronaldo made sure he took centre stage with his hat-trick for Portugal, writes Peter Smith...
It was all about Spain. Every preview, every news story hooked on how the Spanish players would react to the sacking of Julen Lopetegui.
They dominated the headlines in the build-up to this game, the first clash of the heavyweights at the World Cup.
It must have infuriated Cristiano Ronaldo. The captain of Portugal, the European champions. The five-time Champions League winner. The five-time Ballon d'Or winner.
How dare they not include him in the conversation? This was his moment.
Unleashed on Friday, he seized the limelight, hitting a hat-trick, dragging his team to a memorable 3-3 draw in Sochi and reclaiming centre stage for himself - just where he likes to be.
The Real Madrid ace was clearly motivated before kick-off, laughing and cajoling his team-mates after the anthems. There had been reports earlier on Friday of a £16.4m settlement and suspended jail sentence, following tax evasion charges that Ronaldo had previously denied - but that didn't appear to cross his mind as he set his sights on Spain.
Within four minutes he was celebrating wildly in front of a roaring crowd.
There were early tricks and flicks but when he drove towards Nacho in the box he drew a careless clip from his club team-mate to win Portugal a penalty.
There was no doubt about who would take it - and no doubt that, despite David de Gea's best efforts to distract him, Ronaldo would coolly hammer the ball into the corner.
That strike made Ronaldo the first player in history to score in eight major tournaments in a row. It is the kind of stat he will relish, underlining his relentless consistency.
But, despite his outrageous goal-scoring record in club football and qualifiers - he was top scorer in European qualifying for Russia - Ronaldo hasn't had the same impact at World Cups, scoring just three times in his three previous tournaments.
He set about changing that reputation against Spain.
De Gea gave him a helping hand with a shocking howler, allowing a low, fizzing Ronaldo strike to go through him on the stroke of half-time.
But Ronaldo's third was pure theatre.
Spain had brilliantly battled back from twice going behind with goals from Diego Costa and Nacho's thunderous hit appearing to have put them on course for a morale-boosting win.
That was until Ronaldo twisted, turned and tumbled on the edge of the area under a challenge from Gerard Pique.
There were just four minutes left on the clock. A fitting symmetry to when Ronaldo had opened the scoring. It would be him book-ending this thrilling contest.
After pacing out his run-up, hoisting up his shorts, waiting for the wall to be measured and adjusted, and for the referee to finally take his position, Ronaldo took aim and whipped the ball into the top corner.
It was sensational. After 44 failed attempts, his 45th free-kick shot at a major championship was worth the wait.
Ronaldo's 51st hat-trick will not go down as his best yet. It wasn't his most important. But it summed up his unrelenting refusal to be pushed to the sidelines. He won't be ignored.
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