Alvaro Morata scored late to stun Portugal and send Spain to the UEFA Nations League finals on Tuesday night.

Atletico Madrid striker Alvaro Morata was the hero on the night as Spain stunned Iberian rivals Portugal in front of their own fans to progress to the finals of the UEFA Nations League.

Fernando Santos’s side went into the game with all the cards in their favour. Playing in front of a packed crowd, all they had to do was avoid defeat. They dominated the first half and were on course to qualify for the last four until the 87th minute.

The missed opportunities came back to haunt Cristiano Ronaldo and co. as substitute Nico Williams set up Morata to break the deadlock and silence the fans at Estadio Municipal de Braga. Portugal had a couple of opportunities to hit back late on, but they lacked the finishing touch on the night, and it proved costly.

Curiously, it was Portugal’s third goal conceded in the group stages, and A Selecao crashed out despite having the best defensive record of any side in the group stages of League A in the UEFA Nations League.

Meanwhile, La Furia Roja will now take part in the tournament proper alongside Croatia, European champions Italy and the Netherlands. With the 2022 FIFA World Cup up next, it is back to the drawing board for Portugal. The Hard Tackle looks at how both sets of players fared on the night.

Portugal

Diogo Costa: 6/10

Costa had a rather quiet first half but rose to meet the challenge as Spain ramped up the pressure after the break. Costa made four saves, most of them from distance and looked set for a clean sheet. Unfortunately for him, his defence switched off, leaving him in no man’s land to stop Alvaro Morata from poking in the winner.

Joao Cancelo: 5/10 

The Manchester City man returned to the starting lineup after serving his suspension but failed to get going. His usual dynamism was lacking, and Portugal would have been better off keeping their faith in Diogo Dalot instead.

Ruben Dias: 4/10 

The Manchester City man looked unconvincing on the night and lacked his usual assertiveness. Dias lost Morata in the build-up to the winner, and it proved costly. Dias had this streak in him to make an error or two and on the night, and that materialised in the end.

Danilo Pereira: 6/10 

The Paris Saint-Germain utility man stood his ground and was the pick of Portugal’s defenders. Danilo used his physicality well and kept Spain’s attack at bay for the majority of the night. Frustration started to show once Portugal fell behind.

Nuno Mendes: 6/10 

A lively presence down the left, the Paris Saint-Germain defender ran up and down the pitch all night and was involved in several duels with Dani Carvajal. Mendes was also awarded a late yellow card as Spain ramped up the pressure.

William Carvalho: 6/10 

It was a much-improved performance from the player following his struggles against the Czech Republic. Carvalho was not afraid to get stuck in and used his physicality to get into the Spanish players’ heads. He was a solid barrier of protection to Portugal’s backline and also kept the possession ticking seamlessly. Carvalho made way for Vitinha in the 78th minute.

Ruben Neves: 4.5/10 

The Wolverhampton Wanderers captain was uncharacteristically poor in possession and failed to work his magic on the ball. Neves was sloppy on the night, and his decision-making was suspect. He was taken off for Joao Felix in the 89th minute as Portugal sought a way back into the game.

Bruno Fernandes: 6/10 

The Manchester United star was a lively presence in the first half and made some good passes that developed into goal-scoring opportunities. Bruno Fernandes also went close himself with a thunderous strike that hit the side netting. Fernandes’s impact waned as the game went on, and he struggled to have the same impact after the break.

Bernardo Silva: 4/10

Usually a reliable playmaker, Silva appeared listless on the night and never quite got going. He looked devoid of ideas and imagination and largely ran up empty alleyways. The Manchester City man also earned himself a yellow card and was deservedly taken off for Joao Mario in the 73rd minute.

Cristiano Ronaldo: 5/10 

Ironically, Ronaldo was much livelier on the night than he had been in some time now. However, despite being given numerous opportunities, he failed to find the back of the net and largely showed little bite in front of the goal. Ronaldo looked visibly annoyed at full-time, but the footballing legend only has himself to blame for not putting away numerous opportunities.

Diogo Jota: 6/10 

The Liverpool star was a lively presence and proved a tricky customer for Spain to tackle. He forced a superb save from Unai Simon and made a nuisance of himself from set pieces. He was taken off for Rafael Leao in the 78th minute.

SUBSTITUTES

Joao Mario: 5/10

Mario offered solidity but did little to inspire any attacking impetus.

Rafael Leao: 5/10

The AC Milan attacker did not have his shooting boots on and really should have scored when presented with an opportunity.

Vitinha: 5/10

Vitinha replaced Carvalho in the 79th minute but had little time to make an impact.

Joao Felix: N/A

A last throw of the dice by Santos, the Atletico Madrid star only contrived to get himself into the book.

Spain

Unai Simon: 7/10 

The Spanish shot-stopper had a few tricky situations but held his ground to keep A Selecao at bay. He reacted instinctively to deny Diogo Jota with a one-handed save in the first half and showed good decision-making in the second half as Portugal threw the kitchen sink at him.

Dani Carvajal: 5/10

The Real Madrid man came back into the lineup and was a lively presence down the night. While he showed lots of energy, Carvajal came out second best in numerous duels against Ronaldo and Jota.

Hugo Guillamon: 4/10 

The Valencia ace was a surprise inclusion on the night but was out of his depth. He earned himself an early booking and was deservedly hooked at the break.

Pau Torres: 5/10

The Villarreal defender held his own and was given a tough time by Ronaldo. His passing also let him down as Spain dominated possession in the second half and tried to play forward from the back.

Jose Gaya: 6.5/10 

Gaya deserves credit for keeping Bernardo Silva quiet on the night. The Manchester City man is a tough nut to crack but Gaya held his own. He also made a crucial save to prevent Ronaldo, keeping his side in the competition.

Rodri: 7/10

The defensive midfielder was solid in midfield and used his physicality to great effect. Rodri also seamlessly recycled possession and won the ball back numerous times. Rodri’s reliability makes him a major asset to Spain’s midfield.

Carlos Soler: 4.5/10 

Soler struggled to impress on the night, and his sole contribution was a long-range strike that missed the target by miles. It came as no surprise when he was taken off for Pedri at the hour mark.

Koke: 4.5/10

The Atletico Madrid captain was a passenger on the night and did not stand out despite his vast experience. Koke struggled to impose himself, and it came as no surprise when he was subbed off at the hour mark.

Ferran Torres: 5/10

The Barcelona man started off well and got himself into some good positions. However, he faded as the game went on and was taken off for Nico Williams in the 73rd minute. It proved to be an inspired decision by Luis Enrique.

Alvaro Morata: 8/10

The Atletico Madrid man started off quietly and was largely a passenger. Morata improved as the game went on before bursting into life in the final quarter of the game. Morata showed great awareness to leave Ruben Dias slipping poke home the winner in the 87th minute. The strike also saw him draw level with Fernando Morientes in Spain’s all-time goalscorers list.

Pablo Sarabia: 4.5/10 

Sarabia struggled to inspire and failed to take advantage of an out-of-sorts Cancelo. He was taken off for Yeremy Pino at the hour mark.

SUBSTITUTES

Sergio Busquets: 7/10

The veteran replaced Guillamon at half-time and immediately brought in solidity to Spain’s setup.

Pedri: 6/10

Pedri replaced Soler and was an instant upgrade.

Gavi: 6/10

Gavi replaced Koke and instantly added more energy and drive to the middle of the pitch.

Yeremy Pino: 5/10

Yeremy Pino replaced the ineffective Sarabia but fared little better.

Nico Williams: 8/10

He was the difference maker on the night and caused Portugal’s defence several concerns. Nico Williams showed excellent awareness to set up Morata, who ended up slotting the ball into an empty net.

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