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Portugal’s Ricardo Horta strikes late to earn point against wasteful Spain | Nations League


There were 10 minutes remaining when the Spain fans stood to applaud a 17-year-old from 20km down the road. Pablo Martín Páez Gavira, or Gavi, had covered every corner of this pitch and made the goal that had seemingly set Spain on the way to victory over their neighbours. Almost as soon as he had gone, though, Ricardo Horta scored to earn Portugal a draw in the opening game of the Nations League, meaning Spain still have not won a meeting between these two since 2010 without a shootout.

They still might have done, Jordi Alba sending a diving header wide in the final minutes, but in the end Álvaro Morata was the only Spain player to find the net.

The goal was superbly worked in the 25th minute: a counterattack of clinical incision executed with apparent ease, maybe even too much so, like a training drill. It started with a Portugal advance, Rafael Leão escaping César Azpilicueta and getting into Spain’s area, but his cross was too deep and the ball escaped on the other side. Gavi, chest out, laces undone, was the quickest to see it and the quickest to move as well. Sprinting across, travelling much faster than Bruno Fernandes who he beat to the ball, he evaded an outstretched foot and set off up the left.

Running to his right were Morata and Pablo Sarabia, the former stepping over the ball and continuing his dash as Gavi slotted it through the gap between Danilo and João Moutinho. Sarabia immediately turned it back into the path of Morata to finish first time. Seventy metres, 10 seconds, three men, from left to right to middle, and Spain were 1-0 up.

Álvaro Morata (far right) is congratulated on opening the scoring for Spain. Photograph: Ángel Martínez/Uefa/Getty Images

That Gavi, a feisty so-and-so as well as a fine footballer, had driven the move was not a surprise: in a game that had sometimes felt a little lethargic in a stadium that was half empty, he was the liveliest player. He shot wide after just three minutes and tumbled in the area two minutes after that, always looking to accelerate the attack. Now, having made the first he almost provided a second, pulling back from the left. Arriving on the run, Carlos Soler hit a first shot that was stopped by Diogo Costa; his second, falling and on the rebound, flew too high from close range.

At the other end Raphaël Guerreiro set up Leão, who should have done better than fire over. And there was a good chance too for André Silva, who pulled his shot wide after Fernandes’s pass found him in the area and the Spain goalkeeper, Unai Simón, took a step too far forward and tried to correct his position.

Leão had been the threat, if perhaps not as often as Portugal would have liked, and as the second half began he was soon running at Azpilicueta again. Portugal had removed Moutinho, who was unable to get a grip of Spain’s midfield from a deep role that is not really his. The energy still came from Spain, although they were almost caught when a long ball up the pitch was brought down with extraordinary touch from Silva, who turned inside and found Leão. He cut back and the goal opened up before him but the touch was heavy, and he was denied by Simón.

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More changes came: Gonçalo Guedes and Cristiano Ronaldo, Dani Olmo and Koke. Both managers had admitted they were conscious of the impact of four games in 10 days in June at the end of a long season, seeing this more as World Cup preparation than a competition to chase. Gavi, though, was still screeching about everywhere, another sprint and slotted pass creating a great opportunity that Morata put past the post before being replaced by Raúl de Tomás. Alba then sliced a shot wide. Perhaps more surprisingly, Sergio Busquets was still there too, imposing a calm authority on the match, Spain in control.

Or so it seemed. There were nervous moments for the home fans when Spain played out from the back, treading a fine line, and slowly Portugal applied the pressure. The ball still was not really reaching Ronaldo, playing his 187th game for his country, but they were far more on the front foot as the match headed into the final quarter of an hour. Almost as soon as Gavi was withdrawn, they were also level. Spain were caught out on their left, the cross was sharp and fast, and Horta scored.


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