UEFA Nations League: "If there is someone who can beat Van Dijk, it is Cristiano," says Jose Fonte
What's the story?
35-year-old Portuguese centre-back and former team-mate of Virgil van Dijk at Southampton, Jose Fonte has said that if anyone can beat van Dijk's incredible record of having never been dribbled past this season, it will be Cristiano Ronaldo.
Ronaldo was in devastating form in the UEFA Nations League semifinal, scoring a sensational hat-trick to propel Portugal to a 3-1 win over Switzerland and into the finals of the tournament.
With Van Dijk's Netherlands set to face England in the other semi-final, a mouthwatering showdown between Ronaldo and Van Dijk could be on the cards for the inaugural UEFA Nations League's showpiece final.
In case you didn't know...
Virgil van Dijk has had a scintillating season with Liverpool, leading them to the UEFA Champions League title, with the Dutchman declared the Man of the Match in the final.
He had a fantastic Premier League campaign as well, marshalling the stingiest defence in the league as the Reds conceded just 22 goals in 38 league games and gave a stern challenge to eventual winners Manchester City till the final matchday.
The Dutchman's efforts were also recognised by his peers as Van Dijk was declared the PFA Players' Player of the season.
Cristiano Ronaldo had an underwhelming season with Juventus, going by his world-class standards. The magisterial Portuguese hitman managed only 21 goals in the Serie A for Juventus, finishing as the fourth top-scorer in the league.
Despite guiding the Turin club to the Scudetto title, the Portuguese talisman was unable to get the Old Lady past the knockout stages in both the Coppa Italia and the UEFA Champions League.
The heart of the matter
Jose Fonte remarked on the Dutchman's spectacular season and his chances of winning a Ballon d'Or.
"“I had many conversations with my international team-mates, including Cedric [Soares], I remember telling him, ‘Listen, this guy I am sure he will be one of the best defenders in the world’,” the 35-year-old said. “I am not surprised to see him disputing the Ballon d’Or this year, I am just pleased for him and I wish he keeps going like this.”
Fonte and Van Dijk played together for close to two years at Premier League side Southampton, a time during which van Dijk improved his defensive game immensely.
"He was named Premier League player of the year, winning the Champions League, why not? We always give it to the strikers because they score goals and everything but it is about time a defender gets one, no?. It’s not only me, everyone could see the pace he had, how strong he is – he wins every duel,” It was just about improving his positioning, and that is what he did when he came to Southampton. He stopped coming out with the ball too much, trying to dribble too much, playing simple.”
Speaking on the possibility of Portugal meeting Van Dijk's Netherlands in the UEFA Nations League final, Fonte remarked that having Cristiano Ronaldo could be the player to beat the Dutchman's record of not having been dribbled past this season.
"“It is an incredible stat, isn’t it? It is not easy, but no-one is unbeatable,” he added. “If there is someone [who can beat Van Dijk], Cristiano is one of them.”
Netherlands, captained by Virgil van Dijk, will take on England in the second semi-final of the UEFA Nations League. Portugal will face the winner of this match in Sunday night's final.