Having two televisions in the same room is a gratuitous luxury that was made necessary by Monday’s frenetic finish to Group B play.
Spain ultimately snatched top honours in Kaliningrad courtesy of an added-time goal by Iago Aspas against Morocco that happened at the exact same time that Iran levelled from the spot against Portugal in Saransk.
Despite failing to win its final group stage encounter for the first time in nine tries, 2010 World Cup winner Spain still set up a last-16 date with host Russia thanks to its 2-2 draw with The Atlas Lions. Meanwhile, second-placed Portugal moves to the other side of the bracket to face Uruguay after sharing the spoils with Iran, which was narrowly eliminated from the competition.
Here’s a look at a timeline of events in both matches that led to a goofy finish that altered three fates in the span of seconds:
14th minute – Kaliningrad: Morocco’s Khalid Boutaib gives his side a 1-0 lead over Spain minutes after being hacked down by a two-footed Gerard Pique tackle that curiously escaped punishment. Andres Iniesta and Sergio Ramos dawdled on the ball at the halfway line, gifting Boutaib a one-on-one with David De Gea, who spread his pegs like the Strait of Gibraltar.
Portugal now sits atop the group on five points.
19th minute – Kaliningrad: Isco levels with a rocket of a right-footed effort into the roof of Munir Mohamedi’s net courtesy of a slick bit of interplay in the penalty area between Iniesta and Diego Costa. The Real Madrid star’s goal was his 12th in his last 15 international appearances for Spain.
Spain vaults past Portugal by virtue of goals scored.
45th minute – Saransk: Portugal’s purveyor of face tats, Ricardo Quaresma, fires a ridiculous outside-of-the-foot effort on the stroke of half-time that pushes the 2016 Euro winner into the lead. Quaresma is the oldest player to score on his first World Cup start since 2006.
Portugal heads into the interval sitting atop Group B on seven points.
53rd minute – Saransk: Cristiano Ronaldo fails to double Portugal’s advantage from the penalty spot when Iran shot-stopper Alireza Beirandvand lunges to stymie the Real Madrid star. Ronaldo’s penalty was the 19th of the 2018 World Cup, already a new record for the quadrennial contest.
Portugal still holds group honours courtesy of its one-goal lead.
81st minute – Kaliningrad: Second-half substitute Youssef En-Neyyri’s thumping header gives Morocco a shock lead. At the same moment in Saransk, Ronaldo is spared a sending-off for elbowing Morteza Pouraliganji. Match official Enrique Caceres instead brandishes a yellow following the use of VAR.
Morocco vaults Iran for third place in the group while Portugal remains top.
91st minute – Kaliningrad: Spain’s Aspas equalises from close range with a back-heel flick that’s initially ruled offside before VAR determines the substitute was played onside by Morocco midfielder Mbark Boussoufa.
Meanwhile, in Saransk, VAR rules that Portugal full-back Cedric Soares handled the ball in the penalty area, giving Iran a chance from the spot.
Portugal maintains top spot in the group by the narrowest of margins while Morocco slides to fourth.
93rd minute – Saransk: Seconds later, Iran’s Karim Ansarifard levels with an audacious penalty finish that bulges the roof of Rui Patricio’s net.
Spain bounds ahead of Portugal thanks to Iran’s equaliser with minutes remaining in the match in Kalingrad.
94th minute – Saransk: Team Melli’s Mehdi Taremi nearly gives Iran the lead from close proximity with a shot that strikes the side netting.
Had Taremi scored, Iran would have vaulted both Spain and Portugal for top spot in the quartet, with the latter falling to third.
97th minute – Kaliningrad: Match official Ravshan Irmatov blows the final whistle in a 2-2 draw between Spain and Morocco.
Spain is guaranteed to finish no worse than second in the group thanks to the stalemate in Kalingrad.
98th minute – Saransk: Portugal can’t find a winner as Caceres ends the frenzied affair.
Both Spain and Portugal finish on five points, with La Furia Roja claiming Group B because of the second tiebreaker, goals scored. Both sides finished group play with a plus-one goal differential. It’s the first time since 2010 that teams Nos. 1-3 in a group sat on five, five, and four points.
(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)