Ronaldo, Portugal avoid loss; Spain disappointed in Nations League

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By Doug McIntyre
FOX Sports Soccer Writer

Last year’s UEFA Nations League runner-up couldn’t get its 2022-23 tournament slate off to a winning start Thursday, as Spain conceded a late equalizer to Iberian rival Portugal in a 1-1 tie in Seville.

With Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo watching from the bench, Álvaro Morata opened the scoring for La Roja when he finished off a lightning-quick counter-attack in the 25th minute.

But after a dominant first half, the hosts faded and failed to put the match away. Portugal — whose coach, Fernando Santos, brought Ronaldo off the substitutes just after the hour mark — was much better after the intermission. 

And they got the goal they needed to avoid defeat on Ricardo Horta’s first international strike with less than 10 minutes of regular time remaining.

Here are three quick thoughts on the match.

Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal’s golden oldies aren’t done yet

Ronaldo has won two major international trophies for his country: the European Championship in 2016 and the inaugural Nations League three years later. 

But Ronaldo is 37 now, and while he was easily the best player on a bad team during the club season (his 18 goals for Manchester United were third-most in the Premier League in 2021-22), his national team days are surely numbered, with what would be his fifth World Cup looming at the end of the year.

Spain vs. Portugal highlights I UEFA Nations League

Ricardo Horta scored in the 82nd minute as Portugal managed a draw vs. Spain. Álvaro Morata scored in the 25th minute to give Spain the early lead. Cristiano Ronaldo did not start for Portugal but entered as a substitute in the second half.

Portugal has no shortage of new stars in their primes. Defender João Cancelo is 28. Midfielders Horta, Bruno Fernandes and Bernardo Silva are 27. Forward Diogo Jota, who didn’t dress after playing in last week’s Champions League final for Liverpool, is 25. Their roster stacks up against just about anyone’s.

Still, seeing Ronaldo on the bench for Portugal will never not be strange.

Yet it’s also a reflection of this new reality. Ronaldo isn’t the only old hand on Santos’ squad; 39-year-old defender Pepe and veteran midfielder João Moutinho, who’s 35, both started Thursday.

The trio isn’t finished just yet. It’s clear that Ronaldo, Moutinho and Pepe all will have a role to play — even if not full-time — at least though this World Cup, as Portugal tries to add the most coveted title of all before Rolando & Co. call it an international career.

Disappointing finish (and finishing) for La Roja 

Ever since Spain accomplished the unprecedented feat of winning three consecutive major tournaments (2008 and 2012 Euros, 2010 World Cup) a decade ago, they’ve struggled for success at the highest level. Other than their loss to World Cup holder France in the 2021 Nations League decider last October, La Roja haven’t even come close to reaching a final.

With a new generation of players and an elite coach in Luis Enrique, the hope in Spain is that Enrique’s side can overcome the burden of expectation that their predecessors left them and seriously challenge for global supremacy later this year in Qatar. Based on Thursday’s evidence, though, you have to wonder if November won’t arrive a bit too soon. 

2022 FIFA World Cup: Will Portugal or Spain advance further?

The FOX Soccer crew, including Maurice Edu and Alexi Lalas, debate whether Spain or Portugal will make it further in the 2022 World Cup.

As good as Spain — the better team by just about every statistical measure — was for long stretches in Seville, they couldn’t score more than once, despite creating more than enough chances. The starting front line of Morata, Ferran Torres and Pablo Sarabia forced Portugal keeper Diogo Costa to make only one save, despite taking 11 shots Thursday. 

It wasn’t the first time Spain’s suspect finishing has come back to haunt them, either. It was the same story in that 2-1 loss to Le Bleus last year. That’s a problem. And it doesn’t figure to be going away any time soon.

Quick turnaround for both teams

After being held to a stalemate at home, Spain won’t have much time to lick their wounds before hitting the road for their next match on Sunday against Czech Republic in Prague.

After bouncing Switzerland 2-1 away on Thursday, the Czechs have to like their chances in front of their own fans. And Spain will probably need to be more aggressive than normal after dropping two points in their opener, which could make for an exciting, attacking contest.

Meanwhile, Portugal will gladly take their point and go home to Lisbon, where they host the Swiss on Sunday. Even if his country no longer needs him to, expect Ronaldo to start that one in the city where he made his professional debut 20 years ago this September.

One of the leading soccer journalists in North America, Doug McIntyre has covered United States men’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.


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