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


There were 10 minutes remaining when the Spain fans inside this stadium in Seville stood to applaud a 17-year-old from 20km down the road who looks as if he will go a very long way. Pablo Martín Páez Gavira, or Gavi, had covered every corner of the pitch and made the goal that seemed to have set Spain on course to victory over their neighbours. Almost as soon as he had been replaced, though, Ricardo Horta scored to earn Portugal a draw in the opening game of a Nations League that it sometimes felt they could do without. It is the fourth time in a row these two sides have finished all square after 90 minutes.

Portugal pressed to see if they could get another goal and Spain might still have won it, Jordi Alba sending a diving header wide in the final minutes. But despite decent chances, Álvaro Morata and Horta were the only players to find the net on a night that, for all the fatigue and flashes of defensive fragility, had been enjoyable enough for the Spain fans half-filling this stadium.

How useful it was for Luis Enrique and Fernando Santos may be a different matter; the Portugal manager had already expressed concern at playing four games in 10 days. He may be pleased, though, at how his side pressed to find a way back late on.

Spain had led since the 25th minute, the goal superbly worked: an incisive counterattack executed with apparent ease, like a training drill. It started with a Portugal advance, Rafael Leão escaping César Azpilicueta, but his cross was too deep and the ball escaped the area. Gavi, chest out, laces undone, was the quickest to see it and the quickest to move as well. Sprinting across and travelling much faster than Bruno Fernandes, whom he beat to the ball, Gavi 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, and Spain were 1-0 up.

Álvaro Morata (far right) is congratulated on opening the scoring for Spain
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 no surprise: in a game that had sometimes felt a little lethargic, he was already the liveliest player and would continue that way. He had shot wide after 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. 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.

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Northern Ireland‘s wait for a Nations League victory goes on after their campaign began with yet another dispiriting result as Ian Baraclough’s side were beaten 1-0 at home by Greece.

Despite the best efforts of another sell-out crowd at Windsor Park, Northern Ireland were too flat for too long, only raising their game when two 34-year-olds – Kyle Lafferty and Niall McGinn – came off the bench to chase a result in the final half an hour.

But they could find no answer to Tasos Bakasetas’ 39th-minute strike for the visitors as Gus Poyet took victory in his first competitive game in charge of Greece.

It means Northern Ireland are still without a win after 11 attempts in the Nations League, while Baraclough has only one victory in the same number of fixtures at Windsor Park in all competitions.

Erling Haaland’s superb first-half volley gave Norway a surprising 1-0 win away to Serbia as they got their Nations League Group B4 campaign underway on Thursday, but they needed goalkeeping heroics from Orjan Nyland to secure the win.

An early Jan Kuchta strike and a second-half own goal gave the Czech Republic a 2-1 win over Switzerland.

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At the other end Raphaël Guerreiro set up Leão, who should have done better than fire over. There was a good opportunity 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 and tried to correct his position.

The second half began with Leão running at Azpilicueta again. Spain were then caught when a long ball was brought down with extraordinary touch from Silva, who turned inside and found Leão. He cut back, and the goal opened in front of him, but he was denied by Simón.

Changes came: Gonçalo Guedes and Cristiano Ronaldo, Dani Olmo and Koke, both managers conscious of the demands made on their players at the end of a long season and seeing this more as World Cup preparation than a trophy to pursue.

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Gavi, though, was still scampering about everywhere – another pass created a great chance that Morata put past the post. Perhaps more surprisingly, Busquets was still there too, imposing a calm authority, Spain in control as Alba then sliced a shot wide.

Or so it seemed. There were nervous moments when Spain played out, treading a fine line, and Portugal applied pressure. If the ball still was not really reaching Ronaldo much, they were far more on the front foot in the final quarter of an hour. And then, with Gavi finally withdrawn, they were also level, a sharp, swift cross tuned in by Horta.



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