Portugal 1-0 Netherlands - 4 things we learnt from the UEFA Nations League final

Portugal v Netherlands - UEFA Nations League Final
Portugal v Netherlands - UEFA Nations League Final
Elvis Ume O

The inaugural edition of the UEFA Nations League is officially over with Portugal emerging as champions courtsey a 1-0 victory over Netherlands with Gonçalo Guedes getting the all-important winning goal.

In what was a high tempo match devoid of too many goalscoring chances, Portugal showed great tenacity to lift the trophy in front of their home fans. In this piece, we shall be taking a look at four talking points from the final of the UEFA Nations League.

#4 Ronaldo re-establishes himself in Ballon d'Or race

Portugal v Netherlands - UEFA Nations League Final
Portugal v Netherlands - UEFA Nations League Final

Having failed to fire Juventus to Champions League glory and falling short of his usual standards during the 2018/2019 season, a lot of people wrote off Cristiano Ronaldo's chances of winning a record sixth Ballon d'Or.

However, if there is one trait which the Portuguese icon has shown over his course of his career, it is an uncanny knack of rising highest in the face of adversity and once again, he did not fail to disappoint.

Having sat out all of Portugal's group stage matches since their exit from the 2018 World Cup last July, Ronaldo announced his debut in the novel tournament with a bang, scoring a memorable hattrick in the semifinal to lead his nation past a stubborn Switzerland side.

This coupled with Netherlands' qualification at the expense of England in the other semifinal fixture set up a mouth-watering final between the two nations, with Ronaldo coming up face-to-face with the man who is tipped to win the Ballon d'Or - Virgil van Dijk.

The Liverpool defender has been nothing short of spectacular since arriving Anfield and captaining his nation to glory in the Nations League would have undoubtedly boosted his stock higher.

However, that failed to happen as A Seleção das Quinas triumphed on the night to send their fans into ecstasy.

Even though Cristiano Ronaldo was not directly involved in the goal, he played an indirect role by drifting out wide to give Guedes the space to run in, while his semifinal hattrick is the reason why they got past the semi-final in the first place.

It was fitting that Ronaldo was the first man to lift the newly formed Nations League on home soil. This win came almost 15 years after his anguish and tears broke the hearts of many after losing the 2004 Euro final to Greece in Lisbon. With his triumph, you can expect the 34-year-old to be among the frontrunners for the 2019 Ballon d'Or.

#3 UEFA Nations League has finally won fans over

Portugal v Netherlands - UEFA Nations League Final
Portugal v Netherlands - UEFA Nations League Final

The UEFA Nations League is a tournament created by football's governing body in Europe ostensibly to increase competition among teams at similar levels and reduce the number of dead rubber friendlies played during international breaks.

The tournament layout was a bit complicated involving relegations and promotions and when the first set of group stage matches were played in September last year, there were many who did not see the need for the tournament.

Jurgen Klopp brandished it useless, while many others also expressed their reservations about the newly formed competition.

However, the competitive nature of the tournament made it a must win for coaches and the group stage offered lots of excitement, while the potential opportunity for an appearance at next year's Euros also attached more importance to it for the lower ranked teams.

England showed great resilience to rally back from early setbacks to top a group also containing Spain and Croatia to qualify for the semifinals, while 2014 world champions Germany were relegated with Netherlands surprisingly topping their group.

By the time the semifinals rolled around, there was genuine interest in the tournament, with Ronaldo's return and subsequent spectacular performance also adding extra spice.

Even though fans might have been slow to warm up to it, the Nations League showed that it has a lot to offer and on evidence of the thrills the first season provided, it is safe to say that there would be a lot of interest in the next edition.

#2 Portugal making impressive strides under Fernando Santos

Portugal v Netherlands - UEFA Nations League Final
Portugal v Netherlands - UEFA Nations League Final

It is hard to believe that as recently as three years ago, the Portuguese national team had yet to win a major international trophy.

The country had produced consecutive Under-20 World Cup winning teams in 1989 and 1991. This group of players, which had within its ranks Portuguese greats like Luis Figo, Rui Costa, Joao Pinto and so on were affectionately termed 'the Golden Generation'. Yet, they failed to make a major mark on the international stage culminating with the heartbreak of Euro 2004 on home soil.

Cristiano Ronaldo made his tournament debut that year and six tournaments later, he skippered the side to their first major international trophy in 2016 at the expense of France.

That victory came in the most unlikely of circumstances, as the Portuguese flattered to deceive and were roundly outplayed in most of their matches, only making it to the knockouts by the skin of their teeth.

Since then, Fernando Santos has been building the side into a solid and effective winning machine.

Some of the most exciting midfield players in Europe right now are Portuguese, with Ruben Neves and Bernardo Silva lighting up the Premier League in England, while Bruno Fernandes is among the hottest properties in the transfer market.

Danilo and William Carvalho provide the steel at the base of midfield, giving their more technical teammates the license to go forward.

Elsewhere, Fernando Santos is also spoiled for choice especially in the full-back position, as Raphael Guerrero, Joao Cancelo (who did not start the final), Nelson Semedo and the highly rated Ricardo Perreira (who was not even called up) are among the best full-backs anywhere in the world.

There are also young upstarts in almost all departments, with the highly sought after Joao Felix, Andre Silva, Gonzalo Guedes, Gelson Fernandes and Rony Lopez all 23 or under.

2016 Golden Boy Renato Sanches has not been part of the national setup for a while but still has a lot to offer if he can get his career back on track. Andre Gomez is also a similar case. There is no clearer indication that Portugal are well prepared for the next decade or more.

Veterans like Joao Moutinho, Nani, Pepe and the omnipresent Cristiano Ronaldo are still very much present to complement their young compatriots and on evidence of their squad depth. It would be foolish to write off Portugal's chances of making it three consecutive continental trophies at the EURO next year.

#1 Despite their recent progress, international glory continues to evade the Netherlands

Previews: Portugal v Netherlands - UEFA Nations League Final
Previews: Portugal v Netherlands - UEFA Nations League Final

The Netherlands is one of the traditional heavyweights of international football and The Oranje have given us some of the most illustrious names to ever grace a football field.

Players of the distant past like Johan Cruyff, Marco Van Basten, Ryan Neskeens, Patrick Kluivert, Ronald Koeman but to name a few have provided us with some of the most legendary moments in the history of the game.

The country is famed for its continuous grooming of young players with the Ajax academy being the primary example among many. After a slump, the club announced its return on the big stage with a phenomenal performance last season with the core of the squad being homegrown players.

However, for all of the excitement provided, the Dutch have been without international glory since Van Basten's spectacular volley granted them their first and till date only major international trophy in Euros 1988.

Since then there have been multiple heartbreaks, with numerous semifinal appearances as well as a final appearance in the 2010 World Cup.

After finishing in third place at the 2014 World Cup, Netherlands suffered a massive decline, as they failed to adequately replace the likes of Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneidjer and did not qualify for either the 2016 Euros or the 2018 World Cup.

However, since the appointment of former skipper Ronald Koeman in 2018, the side has slowly crawled its way back to the pinnacle of the beautiful game.

The former Everton manager has build his team around young players who are unafraid of taking risks and playing the attractive brand of football associated with Holland while also maintaining tactical and defensive solidity.

They impressively topped their Nations League group also containing the last two world champions in Germany and France, while also showing tenacity to come from behind and knock England out in the semifinal.

However, Portugal with their home support proved to be one step too far to ensure that their wait for international glory goes on.

Edited by Sai Teja


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