Portugal denied Spain a winning start in the Nations League on Thursday, as Alvaro Morata’s first-half goal was cancelled out by a late equaliser from Ricardo Horta.

Morata scored at the end of a brilliant counter-attack, and while Cristiano Ronaldo came on for Portugal in the second half, it was another replacement, Horta, who equalised with eight minutes remaining.

The Braga forward was making only his second appearance for Portugal, eight years after his first. “I feel proud,” he said. “I deserve to be here and I wanted to show that.”

With games against Switzerland and the Czech Republic to remain, neither of the two Group A2 favourites can claim an early edge. Spain plays the Czech Republic in Prague on Sunday, while Portugal hosts Switzerland.

“We’ve had chances, we haven’t scored and they equalised. We have to keep working,” Morata said.

Both of these teams will be regarded contenders for the World Cup in Qatar later this year, but it was Spain’s youthful side that looked the more complete in an unexpectedly fierce and intense encounter at the Benito Villamarin, coming off another long and exhausting season.

It was the 17-year-old Gavi’s run and ball that set up Morata’s goal, and the Barcelona midfielder was perhaps the game’s best player, putting in another accomplished performance that impressed Luis Enrique.

“With Gavi I have the feeling he is still unknown in Spanish football,” Luis Enrique said. “Not only does he run and fight, defensively he’s fantastic, but offensively he is good as well. He can score, shoot with both feet. He’s unique.”

Story of the match

Spain grabbed the lead in the 25th minute, thanks to a Portugal attack in which Joao Cancelo’s attempted flick was intercepted by Gavi.

With alternatives ahead of him, the teenager drove past the half-way line and slipped the pass right, Morata letting it run for Pablo Sarabia outside him and carrying on into the box. Sarabia slipped the ball over for Morata to finish easily.

After a superb ball down the line put Gavi free, his pull-back found the coming Soler, whose first effort was stopped by Diogo Costa while his second went over the bar.

Portugal’s greatest chance came early in the second half, when Andre Silva did well to set up Rafael Leao on the left side of the penalty box, but Unai Simon saved with his legs.

Cancelo made amends for his previous error in the 82nd minute, exchanging a slick one-two with Goncalo Guedes down the right before hitting a cross into Horta, who was all alone and made no mistake.

Alba could have won it for Spain late on, but he headed wide, forcing both teams to settle for a point.

 

 

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