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Where does Portugal-Spain rank among all-time great World Cup games?

Cody Brunner
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It’s the kind of question that’ll get sports fans heated.

Really? How can it be an all-time great World Cup match when it ended in a draw? When a debatable call leads to a penalty kick in the opening minutes? When one of the best players in the world, and likely the best goalie, gives away a key goal? When a possible flop/controversial call in the closing minutes led to the game-tying goal? When it was a GROUP STAGE GAME!?!

But it’s not molten-lava hot takery to call Portugal-Spain one of the greatest World Cup games of all time. At the very least, it was the most highly anticipated matchup of the tournament and it delivered nonstop excitement for 90-plus minutes. It lived up to the hype and then some.

Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates after scoring against Spain during World Cup Group B action. (AP)
Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates after scoring against Spain during World Cup Group B action. (AP)

Cristiano Ronaldo, one of the best, if not the best ever, squared up against one of the favorites to win the trophy in Spain and he delivered like only he could in a 3-3 epic. There were early goals. Fun goals. Ugly goals. Nasty goals. Beautiful goals. Some casual footstomping. Some not-so-casual forearms to the head. Goal changes galore.

Ronaldo and Portugal would eventually have the last laugh as he looped a brilliant ball over Spain’s wall – doubling his career World Cup tally in the process – and into the back of the net to secure the draw and what could be a crucial point in Group B.

The whole match was a thing of beauty. Just look at this progression of fun:

So where does it belong in World Cup history?

Admittedly, this is where it gets a bit tricky and will probably rankle some.

It was a group stage game. Ronaldo dug into his bag of tricks to draw the early penalty and the late free kick that wound up leading to the tying goal. Spain’s David de Gea had what will probably be remembered as the biggest mistake by a goalkeeper in the 2018 World Cup. It was a group stage game that might not have wound up impacting which teams eventually move on to the knockout round.

In any conversation like this, recency bias and rooting interest/subjectivity usually play a role. For instance, if you’re a fan of the U.S. men’s national team, you might think back fondly on Landon Donovan’s last-gasp winner against Algeria in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. But that was a dog of a matchup until that point and, frankly, it was U.S.-Algeria.

Many objective greatest World Cup game lists might have, in no particular order:

• Diego Maradona’s “Hand of God” game – Argentina over England, 2-1, 1986 quarterfinal
• “The Game of the Century” – Italy over West Germany, 4-3, 1970 semifinal
• Pele’s coming-out party – Brazil over Sweden, 5-2, 1958 final
• Maracanazo – Uruguay over Brazil, 2-1, 1950 final
• Pele’s last hurrah – Brazil over England, 1-0, 1970 group stage game
• Controversy (and a KO) in Spain – West Germany over France, 3-3 (5-4 on penalties), 1982 semifinal
• Suarez saves – Uruguay over Ghana, 1-1 (4-2 on penalties), 2010 quarterfinal
• Beatdown in Belo Horizonte – Germany over Brazil, 7-1, 2014 semifinal

What’s the verdict?

It’s hard to put Spain-Portugal up there with some of those iconic World Cup games in terms of sheer greatness due to the aforementioned factors, but you can’t deny how entertaining the action was on Tuesday. This World Cup will be partially remembered for the Iberian Peninsula showdown regardless of what happens the rest of the tourney. If it would’ve played out in the knockout round, who knows what else might’ve happened in extra time. For my money, it was easily in the top 10 best ever. It had a little bit of everything and didn’t disappoint one bit.

Everybody will have an opinion on where it will go down in history though. Where does it rank for you? Feel free to sound off in the comments section.

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OddsMoney LinePoint SpreadTotal Points
Real Sociedad
+280-O 3.5
Real Madrid
-106-U 3.5