Cristiano Ronaldo doesn’t usually have bad games, but when he does they usually revolve around some kind of controversy. This rare occasion took place at Mordovia Arena in Saransk, the World Cup’s smallest host city, where Ronaldo had to beg Iranian fans to let him sleep after thousands of their supporters kept him awake by chanting in the streets outside his hotel on Sunday night.
If Ronaldo was lacking in sleep, Portugal were lacking in fight and cutting edge even if the enigmatic Ricardo Quaresma opened the scoring with a sumptuous outside-of-the-boot trivela effort on the stroke of half time.
There have been plenty of ‘what ifs’ during Quaresma’s career. What if he made the most of his time at Barcelona, Inter and Chelsea? What if he had been more professional? What if he hadn’t joined Al Ahli at the twilight of his career?
Those questions will never be answered but one aspect of Quaresma’s years as a professional football has been consistent throughout; the trivela.
“I will never miss out on the chance to use the trivela in a match situation,” Quaresma has previously been quoted as saying – and never a truer word has been spoken.
On the stroke of half time in a crucial World Cup Group B match against Iran that Portugal needed to draw or win in order to qualify for the last 16, ‘the Mustang’ made his mark.
He exchanged a quick one-two with Southampton full-back Cedric Soares before curling a signature trivela into the top corner. It was his first ever World Cup goal and first strike for Portugal since June 2017 against Mexico.
However, Iran refused to succumb to what many predicted would be a comfortable Portugal win. A missed second half penalty from Ronaldo certainly sent shockwaves throughout the Mordovia Arena and beyond, while the Real Madrid star was lucky not to be sent off following a VAR review after what looked like a deliberate elbow on Morteza Pouraliganji.
Iran’s equaliser came in injury time through another controversial decision made by VAR after Soares handballed Sardar Azmoun’s knock down. The penalty was taken by Karim Ansarifard who finished past Rui Patricio to level things up.
And seconds later, the Iranians almost completed a stunning comeback win – which would have put them through and Portugal out – as Mehdi Taremi struck the sidenetting with just Rui Patricio to beat. It was a gilt-edged opportunity and one that should have been tucked away by an Iran side who played with heart under Portuguese coach Carlos Queiroz.
It was a lucky escape for Ronaldo and co, who will hope it was just a bad day at the office ahead of this weekend’s last 16 clash against Uruguay. In reality, the Euro 2016 success of two years ago looks unlikely to be repeated on the world stage judging from the limp performance shown in Saransk.