By TIM BOOTH
AP Sports Writer
SOCHI, Russia (AP) – David De Gea had a forgettable World Cup debut as goalkeeper for Spain but quickly turned his focus to the bigger picture for the national team.
“We didn’t even lose,” he said after Spain’s 3-3 draw with Portugal to open Group B.
De Gea had a blunder late in the first half that allowed Cristiano Ronaldo to score the second of his three goals on a relatively basic shot. It was Ronaldo who made De Gea’s first World Cup match miserable from start to finish Saturday night.
Ronaldo scored from the penalty spot in the opening minutes, and he finished his performance with a perfect free kick in the final moments to earn the draw for Portugal. But it was that middle goal, on the cusp of halftime, which a goalkeeper the stature of De Gea should stop – even if one of the world’s best players is taking the shot.
The ball was well struck with Ronaldo’s left foot, but De Gea failed to properly stay in front of the attempt and let it slip through for a 2-1 Portugal lead.
The gaffe wasn’t on the same level of the mistakes made by Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius in the Champions League final, but it was still a big blunder on the biggest stage.
It was also the second mistake by De Gea in a short period. Although he was fantastic this season playing for Manchester United, De Gea also allowed a soft goal in Spain’s warm-up match against Switzerland.
De Gea acknowledged his performance wasn’t stellar but noted the game was over and Spain must now ready to play Iran on Wednesday.
“Mistakes can happen to anyone. It was a difficult ball,” De Gea said. “We have to keep training and keep working. We have an important match against Iran coming up. If we win, we will be taking a big step toward qualifying.”
Fans were irritated with De Gea’s mistake, but he was quick to receive support from current teammates, both country and club. Juan Mata sent a message to his Manchester United teammate on Twitter reading, “You’re the best, period.”
Spanish captain Sergio Ramos tweeted , “It’s not about never failing, it’s about never giving up.”
Diego Costa, who scored two of Spain’s three goals, also expressed confidence in his goalkeeper.
“The great players can get back up by themselves,” Costa said. “He knows he has our support. He is one of the world’s top players. We know of his quality, how great he is. All I can do is give him a hug. I’ve had many bad games myself. This is a family. The people may not think it is from the outside, but we are a family. We have to move on and show that we are a family.”
De Gea seemed to appreciate the support from Costa, noting there had been criticism of the striker for his lack of goals prior to the Portugal game.
“It’s football,” said De Gea, “one day you are worthless, the next you are very good. We have to move on.”
Spanish coach Fernando Hierro, given the job 48 hours before the World Cup began, gave no indication he was considering any sort of change to backups Pepe Reina or Kepa Arrizabalaga.
“We don’t have any doubts about De Gea and he doesn’t have any doubts about himself either,” Hierro said. “We know being a goalkeeper requires special psychology. We know that it’s a difficult position to play. But we harbor absolutely no doubts, quite frankly.”
More AP World Cup coverage: www.apnews.com/tag/WorldCup
Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.