Nations League final: Portugal’s meeting with the Netherlands to decide the first ever winners of the Nations League on Sunday sees the unstoppable force of Cristiano Ronaldo face the immovable object in Virgil van Dijk.
Ronaldo sat out the early stages of UEFA’s new competition to save his 34-year-old legs for his first season at Juventus, but returned in time to ride to the host nation’s rescue once more in Wednesday’s semi-final against Switzerland.
The Swiss enjoyed the better of the game in Porto, but the five-time world player of the year was lethal in scoring his 53rd career hat-trick with three exquisite finishes.
“It’s the preparation – my work ethic. I still feel good despite being 34 years of age,” Ronaldo told UEFA.com.
A star-filled final
Both sides go into the game with exceptionally talented players, including Portugal’s Joao Felix and Bruno Fernandes who have both been linked with big money moves to the Premier League, while Dutch defender Matthijs de Ligt is also wanted and midfielder Frenkie de Jong has joined Barcelona from Ajax.
But it is the battle between five-time Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldo and the world’s most expensive defender Van Dijk that is the most intriguing.
Former Manchester United and Real Madrid forward Ronaldo will be playing in his third international final having lost at Euro 2004 and triumphed at Euro 2016, while Van Dijk has played a large part in transforming Liverpool’s backline to win Europe’s biggest club prize and coming close to winning the Premier League.
Ex-Southampton centre-back Van Dijk has also helped rejuvenate a previously ailing Dutch side which had failed to qualify for the last two major tournaments.
“We know sometimes it is impossible to have good defending against Cristiano Ronaldo,” said Netherlands coach Ronald Koeman.
“I think the best that we can do is keeping the ball, to have good ball possession because when we have the ball he can do nothing in attack.”
Ronaldo added: “The Netherlands are an excellent team. They have been playing pretty well.
“I have been watching them in recent matches and they have an excellent squad with great players – young players and more experienced players, which makes their team even stronger.
“We know that they will be quite a difficult opponent, but I think that for both Portugal and the Netherlands, this is simply what finals are like.”
Dangerman Depay – the stats
- Portugal have reached their second major final in the last three years, having won Euro 2016 in France. In fact, before then, they had only ever reached one final of a major competition in their history – finishing as runners up at Euro 2004, in Portugal.
- Netherlands are appearing in their first final since the 2010 Fifa World Cup in South Africa, a match they ended up losing 0-1 to Spain after extra time. Indeed, the Oranje have lost three of their last four major finals, only emerging victorious in Euro 1988 in Germany with a side that included current manager Ronald Koeman.
- Portugal have only lost two of their 13 previous international encounters with Netherlands in all competitions (W7 D4), though one of those defeats came in their most recent meeting in Geneva, a 0-3 defeat by Ronald Koeman’s men back in March 2018.
- Netherlands have never beaten Portugal in Portugal, drawing two and losing three of their five meetings in all competitions. This will be the first competitive meeting there since June 2004, when Dick Advocaat’s men lost 2-1 in the semi-finals of Euro 2004.
- Portugal are looking to become the first European nation to host and win a final of a major competition since France beat Brazil 3-0 in the final of the 1998 World Cup.
- Since Ronald Koeman took charge of Netherlands in February 2018, the Oranje have lost only three of his 13 matches in charge, winning six and drawing the other four.
- Portugal are unbeaten in their last nine matches in all competitions (W4 D5), last embarking on a longer such run between February 2009 and June 2010 under manager Carlos Queiroz (19 games).
- Excluding own goals, Memphis Depay has either scored (three) or assisted (five) each of Netherlands’ last eight goals in all competitions, including setting up two of the three goals in their semi-final win over England.
- In their semi-final victory over Switzerland, Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo netted his 53rd hat-trick for club and country. In fact, seven of the last eight hat-tricks scored for the Portuguese national side have come from Ronaldo (André Silva – 1).
- Should he feature, Netherlands’ Jasper Cillessen will become just the fifth different goalkeeper to earn 50 caps for his country, after Edwin van der Sar (130), Hans van Breukelen (73), Maarten Stekelenburg (58) and Gejus van der Meulen (54).