Jose Mourinho has waxed lyrical about fellow countryman Cristiano Ronaldo after the Portugal captain netted a stunning hat-trick in a coruscating 3-3 draw versus Spain in Sochi.
The game between two of the heavyweights of international football –and pre-tournament favorites at Russia 2018– has been hailed as one of the best ever in World Cup history.
Real Madrid winger Ronaldo thumped his team into the lead on four minutes, after winning a penalty when he went down under contact from club mate Nacho in the area. The 33-year-old made no mistake from the spot.
Diego Costa then drew level for Spain with a precise low shot past Rui Patricio, before the goalkeeper at the other end, Manchester United's David De Gea, committed a howler, by letting Ronaldo's straight shot bounce into the net, making the score 2-1 at half time.
Nacho then redeemed his earlier error by turning in a beautiful half volley off the post that trickled into De Gea's net to put Spain in the lead with what, many thought, would be the best goal of the game.
Despite having being handed a two-year prison sentence and an 18.8 million fine for tax fraud earlier in the day, the man from Madeira stepped up to rifle a stunning 88th-minute free-kick past a rooted David De Gea into the top corner of the net.
Mourinho, Ronaldo's former manager at Real Madrid, broke the game down into two halves and was adamant the action of newly-appointed Fernando Hierro to take off two-goal striker Diego Costa proved the turning point.
"Again for me there was a game with Diego Costa and a game without Diego Costa – the game changed," Mourinho said of Costa's second-half substitution.
“I don’t think 'the game' was perfect. I don't think either team was able to be dominant for 90 minutes, I think some of the goals are some goals that make us want to not sleep," he added.
Particularly hard viewing for Mourinho was the mistake of one of his current players, Man United goalkeeper David De Gea: "He’s my boy, it hurts me to say but he knows, he knows, it’s a bad mistake. But that happens to the best, the good thing with the best is he will be there next match, not afraid," Mourinho added.
De Gea will have chance to redeem himself against Iran in Kazan Arena on Wednesday. but the man who some have dubbed "the best keeper in the world" could have done nothing about Ronaldo's spectacular set piece.
"His record lately is not the best, I think for every free kick he takes in the national team, he is not scoring as much as he did for Manchester United and for the first years in Real Madrid.
"But this one is the critical one, this one is a crucial point, is what can affect the self-esteem, the self-confidence, the way to appear in the next two matches, the rivalry, what it means for Portuguese people who is at home. And he has this little touch, this little feeling and the goal is fantastic," Mourinho said of his former charge.
With virtually the last meaningful kick of the game, Ronaldo had dragged Portugal to a point in the hottest of Iberian battles on the Baltic sea coast. According to Mourinho, his country's skipper is one of a few players who can answer the call when on the biggest stage.
"He knew. He knew and that’s what I really admire in some players and he is a great example. There are players for some matches, there are players for every matches and there are players for special matches. And the players for special matches are the ones."
With Lionel Messi set to take his World Cup 2018 bow the day following Portugal and Spain's seaside showdown, Ronaldo has surely put pressure on his 'world's best' rival to rise to the challenge in Russia.