Gerard Piqué reluctant to give Ronaldo and Portugal credit

Spanish centre-half pleased with a point after nightmare start to opening Group B clash

Gerard Pique has suggested Cristiano Ronaldo dived for the early penalty in the dramatic World Cup encounter between Spain and Portugal on Friday night, with the Barcelona centre-back claiming that that Real Madrid forward "has a habit of throwing himself to the ground".

Pique believed that, given the early setback, Spain had done well to get out of Sochi with a 3-3 draw but he clearly felt that his was better of the two sides and seemed reluctant to, or incapable of, bringing himself to acknowledge that Ronaldo’s remarkable contribution had gone a long way towards evening things up between the two teams.

“We had more chances,” he said. “They had just three shots on goal and scored three goals but matches go a certain way and you have to face up to it. To see yourself in the first game of a World Cup go behind to a penalty after two minutes... you have to have a good feeling after how the game went.

The penalty may have been ‘soft,’ with Ronaldo happy enough to seize the opportunity presented to him, but given the contact made by Nacho on the Portuguese skipper, it seems unlikely that Pique would have been criticising the the player had they been on the same side.

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As it was, he steadfastly defended the team’s goalkeeper, David De Gea, whose mistake was a huge factor in Ronaldo’s second of three, with the Manchester United star effectively turning a shot that seemed to be going straight at him into his own net.

“He has a few years in the games and all of us are behind him, knowing that, in the important moments, he’s going to be like he’s always been. He doesn’t have any lack of confidence and in the dressing room it’s clear that David is our number one. He’s shown it over so many years.”

De Gea, as it happens, had also made an error in the recent friendly against Switzerland. It too allowed a goal he should have prevented but it was not as bad a mistake as Friday’s, and at the time he said it was better to do it then, in a warm-up game, and get it out of his system before the World Cup kicked off.

This time, though, he too insisted his confidence would not be affected. "I like that there are criticisms," he insisted. "Diego Costa has also been criticised and he scored two goals. I haven't killed anyone, either. So I'm happy with the national team. I am happy with the support from the manager and the lads. If we changed a player every time he makes a mistake… I'm relaxed."

Pique, meanwhile, said that the team has little option but to put the controversy over the sacking of manager Julen Lopetegui behind them and get on with their goal, of trying to win the tournament.

“The World Cup has now started,” he said, “and we have to turn the page; there’ll be time in the future to go over it, but now in competition we have to focus on the football. There were meetings with various people on that, but it is the president who decides, you all saw it. After that, everything stays in house.

“Negotiating with Madrid doesn’t bother me at all. The point is clear, it’s a massive club and the club of your life. The manner of it is more debatable, that’s what the president didn’t like it. The players must accept it, and the less we talk, the better.

“We can’t let it affect us, we have to grow together as we’re all fully stuck into the World Cup. It’s an experience that’s not been good for anyone, even if we get to the final and win it. But we’ll see in the end.”

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is an Assistant News Editor at The Irish Times