Late heartbreak for Portugal: Winners, losers and ratings as Ronaldo struggles again and Morata scores Spain winner

Cristiano Ronaldo Portugal 2022Getty Images

La Roja will join Croatia, Italy and the Netherlands in the Nations League finals - though for much of Tuesday's game it didn't look like they'd get the job done.

Spain had barely created anything of note throughout, but in the 88th minute, Alvaro Morata popped up to crash home Nico Williams' clever knockdown and send his country top of League A2.

Out-of-form Ronaldo had his side's two best chances in front of goal but he spurned them both, firing straight at the goalkeeper on each occasion as his alarming struggle for form continues.

This was hardly a ringing endorsement for either side's World Cup chances either, with Spain often drearily stroking the ball around without any penetration while their opponents were worryingly toothless in front of goal.

The visitors monopolised possession in the opening stages without really imposing themselves, but Portugal had the better chances, with Ruben Neves, Diogo Jota and Bruno Fernandes all having opportunities the first half.

The second period started at some pace but would ultimately follow a similar pattern. Ronaldo spurned a glorious chance just two minutes in, firing straight at the goalkeeper from close range after being slipped in by Jota.

Eventually, Portugal's wastefulness was punished with two minutes to go, as a diagonal pass was headed back across goal by Williams and Morata slammed the ball into the roof of the net from mere yards out.

Ronaldo had one more chance to level, but his fierce strike from a tough angle was straight at Simon at his near post.

  • Nuno Mendes Portugal 2022Getty Images

    The Winners

    Nuno Mendes:

    Despite stiff competition, Mendes did his chances of being Portugal's starting left-back at the World Cup no harm with an accomplished display that belied his tender years.

    The 20-year-old was strong on the ball and always backed himself to find his way out of sticky situations and progress the play up the pitch.

    Mendes had the better of a running battle with Torres down his flank, never shirking a challenge.

    Diogo Jota:

    Full of enterprise throughout, Jota demonstrated why he is such an asset for both club and country.

    The Liverpool man posed Portugal's most potent attacking threat and could, and perhaps should, have had a goal and an assist on the night.

    Jota showed excellent control to bring down Bruno's pass before forcing a fine save from Simon, and his driving run from the left wing before slipping Ronaldo in was scintillating.

    South American nations:

    This match was another demonstration of European nations looking well off it in the build-up to the World Cup in Qatar.

    Despite both having a wealth of quality at their disposals, both sides looked bereft of attacking ideas and pedestrian in midfield for large portions of this encounter.

    The likes of Brazil and Argentina will be licking their lips.

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    The Losers

    Bernardo Silva:

    Not his best game as he really struggled to impose himself and influence the game.

    He's perhaps lucky that his starting place is more or less guaranteed, as this was not the most convincing showing in a final cap before the World Cup proper.

    Rafael Leao & Joao Felix:

    Both were overlooked from the start despite impressing in the opening weeks of the 2022-23 season at club level.

    Leao, who did start in a recent win over the Czech Republic, looked sharp off the bench and immediately took the game to Spain, but he needs more minutes and starts to really make his mark for Portugal. He's still not scored his first senior goal for his country.

    Felix, meanwhile, seemingly has no chance to start in Qatar.

    Cristiano Ronaldo & Fernando Santos:

    Much of the debate before kick-off centred on whether an out-of-form Ronaldo should be starting for the Selecao ahead of the World Cup, and Santos opted to ignore the critics and throw him in from the start.

    Although Ronaldo didn't play badly, he still looked like a man who is searching desperately for form, chasing lost causes and running down cul-de-sacs.

    His clearest opening came early in the second half when he was slipped in by Jota, but his effort was straight at the onrushing Simon. It's a chance the Ronaldo of years gone by would have taken.

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    Portugal ratings: Defence

    Diogo Costa (5/10):

    Largely a spectator, with Spain barely threatening his goal before Morata smashed in.

    Joao Cancelo (5/10):

    A more defensive, less adventurous shift than we are used to seeing in the Premier League. Beaten in the air by Williams.

    Danilo Pereira (5/10):

    A no frills display but Spain's attack was blunt.

    Ruben Dias (4/10):

    A fairly straightforward night's work for the Man City man and almost scored, but lost Morata for the winner.

    Nuno Mendes (7/10):

    Good battle with Ferran Torres. Excellent on the ball and faultless defensively.

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    Midfield

    Ruben Neves (5/10):

    Stung the keeper's fingertips with a trademark strike from range and did his defensive work, but fairly quiet.

    William Carvalho (5/10):

    Busied himself breaking up Spain's play in midfield but occasionally a little loose in possession.

    Bruno Fernandes (5/10):

    Had a blast that looked in but was the wrong side of the net. Scurried about but rarely affected play.

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    Attack

    Bernardo Silva (4/10):

    Not his finest night. Barely involved in truth.
    Cristiano Ronaldo (5/10):

    In from the start, Ronaldo ran hard but not much went his way. Spurned one glorious chance from close in.

    Diogo Jota (7/10):

    Forced a fine save after taking down Bruno's pass expertly and deserved an assist for his run and pass to Ronaldo.

  • Fernando Santos Portugal 2022Getty Images

    Subs & Manager

    Joao Mario (5/10):

    Introduced to help shore up the midfield.

    Rafael Leao (6/10):

    Immediately looked to take the game to his opponents.

    Vitinha (N/A):

    A late introduction.

    Joao Felix (N/A):

    Did nothing but get booked.

    Fernando Santos (4/10):

    Decided to start Ronaldo and opted against giving young star Rafael Leao and Joao Felix minutes until late on.