The look of despair and disbelief on the face of Cristiano Ronaldo said it all and doubtless summed up the feelings of any Portugal supporter watching in Stadium 974 or back home. Left hand on head, jaw ajar and wide eyed Ronaldo - like just about everyone else - could not quite believe what he was witnessing.
This World Cup has thrown up some thrilling storylines - from Argentina’s shock defeat by Saudi Arabia to Japan’s dramatic comeback victory against Germany - and the prospect of Portugal throwing away a two-goal lead with a moment of pure slapstick deep into stoppage time would have been up there with the best of them.
For the Portugal goalkeeper Diogo Costa and the Ghana forward Inaki Williams, this was a sliding doors moment. Just as Costa could have found himself on football’s biggest bloopers reels for the rest of his lifetime, haunted by the most elementary of mistakes on the grandest stage of all, so Williams was a slip away from writing himself into World Cup folklore.
If you’ve not yet seen it, fetch yourself some popcorn and sit down for a few seconds of quite bewildering entertainment.
— Telegraph Football (@TeleFootball) November 24, 2022
There were seconds left on the clock and Portugal looked home and hosed. Osman Bukhari had made it 3-2 in the 89th minute to set up an anxious finish but Fernando Santos’ side were nearly there and looking forward to their next outing against Uruguay with three points safely in the bag. And then Costa had his brain fart.
The ball was safely ensconced in his hands and Santos had visions of him booting it long upfield when the Porto goalkeeper suddenly dropped the ball. No problem you would think. Except he had forgotten to check his shoulder and was blissfully unaware that lurking quietly behind him in the six yard box was Williams. One can only imagine the sudden rush of excitement and anticipation Williams felt as the Ghanaian watched Costa roll the ball a few yards in front of him.
As soon as he did, he was off, like a sprinter out of the blocks, and in a flash he was past Costa. The Portugal centre-half pairing of Danilo Pereira and Ruben Dias had seen the unfolding nightmare before Costa had even twigged and the goalkeeper must really have wondered why the two defenders were hurtling back before he got that horrified first glance of Williams. And then came that sliding doors moment. As he got to the ball and rushed to turn, the Athletic Bilbao striker lost his footing.
It was the cruellest of slips but it afforded Dias that extra second to steel in and make a vital interception before Williams could get his shot off. Even then, the danger was not over. The ball was trickling to goal but Danilo had rushed back, past Costa, and was on hand to lash it desperately away and with it went Ghana’s hopes of snatching what would have been a crazy last gasp point.
Moments later, the final whistle was sounded but, for Costa, it was a bittersweet feeling. He wore the most desolate, shell-shocked of expressions, a man still struggling to process the costly embarrassment that had very nearly befallen him. Initially, he was barracked by Danilo but, before too long, annoyance and irritation at the goalkeeper’s gaffe had given way to support, reassurance and, no doubt, a bit of advice. Players took it in turns to come up to greet him before Ronaldo took over, locking his arm around Costa’s shoulder and probably reminding his goalkeeper to never again forget to look behind him in such instances.