Inaugural Nations League Review – Portugal Crowned Champs
Portugal justified their favourites tag by lifting the Nations League crown on home soil. A Goncalo Guedes strike was enough to see off the Netherlands in Porto.
Portugal are the winners of UEFA’s inaugural Nations League after beating the Netherlands in Sunday’s final that was held in Portugal’s second largest city, Porto. In a game that largely failed to live up to expectations, the difference between the two teams was a Goncalo Guedes goal in the second half.
Pre-match, the talk was on the battle that was due to take place between the outstanding Virgil van Dijk in the Netherlands defence and Portugal’s talisman, Cristiano Ronaldo. Both players were excellent in the semi-final, with Virgil van Dijk showing the defensive qualities that have made the Liverpool man one of the favourites for this years’ Ballon d’Or and Ronaldo showing that even at the age of 34, he can still win games single handily, as his hattrick against Switzerland proved.
Netherlands boss Ronald Koeman set his team up to keep possession and while they did see a lot of the ball, they rarely looked threatening. Portugal, as expected, played on the counter-attack and although in the early exchanges had some success, there were few clear-cut chances.
Despite Bernardo Silva, Bruno Fernandes, Ronaldo, and Goncalo Guedes all showing individual flashes of brilliance, it wasn’t until the second half that the deadlock was broken. Smart interplay from Portugal worked the ball to the edge of the area, and 22-year-old Guedes hit a sweet shot with plenty of venom that gave the Euro 2016 a deserved lead in the 60th minute. Barcelona goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen did manage to get a hand to it but not with enough force to keep it out.
For all Holland’s efforts after the goal, they never truly looked like getting back into the game. Their second-half attacking was better than the first in which they failed to register a single shot on goal. But upfront they lacked that final bit of quality. The Portuguese are masters at protecting a lead, something Koeman gave them credit for post-match. But while it was a professional job, the match lacked the drama to make it a spectacle.
Despite being brilliant against Switzerland, Cristiano Ronaldo had a quiet game on the pitch. Defending deeper and more often than usual, Ronaldo was a constant organiser and could often be seen arranging the wall or shouting instructions to the brilliant Ruben Dias.
While Juventus man Ronaldo was struggling to shine, the same cannot be said about Bernardo Silva. The Manchester City player topped off a great tournament with a strong performance in the final. The 24-year-old picked up the best player of the tournament award on the night. Whether Ronaldo’s look of surprise when Silva was named as the best player was real or not is up for debate, but a solitary Ronaldo stood stone-faced while the rest of the Portuguese team rushed to congratulate Silva.
One of the stand-out performers on the day was Sporting Lisbon midfielder, Bruno Fernandes. Heavily linked to a move to the Premier League this summer, the youngster oozes class. His 20 goals and 13 assists in 33 games make him a target, with the Manchester clubs thought to be in the running.
Overall, Portugal are worthy winners of this edition of the Nations League. They did have the advantage of being at home, but as the only team who went through qualifying without defeat, it would be harsh to say it wasn’t deserved. The Euro 2016 winners have made a statement of intent.