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Spain vs. Portugal was a masterpiece

Cristiano Ronaldo was the star, but that game is why we watch the World Cup.

Portugal v Spain: Group B - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

It almost feels banal to put this down, a feeling that’s probably better expressed with a bewildered look of happiness after a final whistle. But holy shit everyone, what a game of soccer that was.

Portugal and Spain tied 3-3 on Friday. There were six goals, each one a twist, a mini-narrative, a dagger, a heartbreak. Just when we thought the game had a story, a plot ... everything changed. And then it changed again.

Hanging above it all was the headliner: Cristiano Ronaldo, someone who at times seems more myth than man, the type of person you feel like the Greeks would have worshipped as some minor god.

It’s hard to overstate just how brilliant Cristiano Ronaldo was in this game. You can point to the bungled Da Gea save, sure, or say that one of his goals was a penalty. It doesn’t matter. Portugal built their entire team around a strong spine and getting the ball to Ronaldo in space. Spain knew that was the plan. We all knew that was the plan. He scored a hat trick.

He did this, with the game on the line:

But it wasn’t only Ronaldo. There was so much more.

Diego Costa scored two goals, including a lumbering, vicious solo effort that started with an elbow to Pepe’s throat and finished with him chopping back and forth on the ball until he’d found a seam in Portugal’s wall of remaining defenders, and finished.

His second was arguably more beautiful, started by a ball over the top from David Silva off a free kick, him putting the ball inch perfect to the head of Sergio Busquets, who headed across the goal line and allowed Costa to finish easily.

(How wonderful is it to have Diego Costa in this Spain side, by the way? When Spain plays it’s as if they’re putting on a ballet, it’s just that the prima ballerina happens to be a wolverine.)

You also got the beautiful final 20 minutes of Spain’s play, before Ronaldo Did the Thing, where they moved the ball effortlessly around the field, Portugal helplessly chasing.

And how could we forget? David Da Gea probably had his worst moment as a goalkeeper and we forgot about it 10 minutes after it happened. A howler like that still sticks with Rob Green. A bad mistake will never leave Loris Karius. This was a game where Da Gea had as huge a mistake as those two ... and we’d forgotten it in half an hour because like 12 things happened after it that overshadowed it. (Which is wonderful — it’s stupid to judge a keeper off one mishandling of the ball.)

I haven’t even mentioned the Nacho strike, one of the purest hit balls I’ve ever seen, something that caused me to stand up and scream. The difficulty to hit a ball like that, with that movement, and to not only connect but connect pure, to put it off the post. I dream of that goal. I will dream of that goal.

One of my favorite moments was after the game, when an old post on our website, one explaining the rules of overtime in the World Cup, suddenly blew up with people visiting it. It didn’t feel like a question about what the rules were but rather a pleading search. You could sense the urgency in their Googling: No, this can’t be it. There has to be more. You can’t end this game now.

I felt bad for these people. I didn’t want them to discover what they soon would, that there is no overtime in group stages, and matches can end in ties. I was right there with them. I wanted it to keep going, on and on forever, into the night.