Preview and Podcast ahead of final
Portugal host Netherlands in the inaugural final of the UEFA Nations League Finals at Porto’s Estádio Do Dragão on Sunday. A Cristiano Ronaldo hat-trick inspired the Seleção to a 3-1 win against Switzerland in the semi-finals with 19-year-old João Félix making his debut.
For tips on who to back to lift the trophy, Freetips.com are offering their readers free tips and a preview of the final. Let’s take a look at some of the main talking points ahead of the big game and a brief rundown of the Netherlands.
Ronaldo does it again
He has been written off time and time again, but there is nothing Cristiano Ronaldo loves more than silencing his critics. A trade mark free kick, trade mark anticipation and finish followed by a trademark cut inside and goal into the far corner, Ronaldo displayed his ability to score from any situation.
His first hat-trick came for Manchester United against Newcastle United in a 6-0 English Premier League thrashing on 12 January 2008. On Wednesday Ronaldo recorded his 53rd career hat-trick and seventh for Portugal.
CR7 will be desperate to help his nation win the UEFA Nations League and partially erase the memory of that nightmare defeat against Greece in the 2004 European Championship Final at the Estádio da Luz.
Fernando Santos makes changes
Santos showed he is willing to adapt by selecting Nélson Semedo over João Cancelo at right-back, starting Bruno Fernandes and moving Bernardo Silva into a central position. 19-year-old João Félix also started the match in his senior debut and went close to scoring after being pulled back by Ricardo Rodriguez.
It was inevitable there would be some difficulties adjusting to a different system and accommodating new players into the team. Switzerland had chances to score with Benfica’s Haris Seferovic leading the way, but overall this was a positive step forward.
This will be a work in progress but Santos is likely to stick with the changes he made against Switzerland. Bruno Fernandes will become a permanent fixture in the starting XI and Bernardo Silva should stick to a central position where he can see more of the ball and influence the game.
Santos will be forced into one change here with the injured Pepe making way for José Fonte. It wouldn’t surprise if João Cancelo came in for Nélson Semedo at right-back to offer more threat against Daley Blind.
Félix was unable to dominate the match as he has become accustomed to for Benfica, he may lose his starting spot to Gonçalo Guedes, Rafa Silva or Diogo Jota.
Portugal defeated Netherlands on their way to the 2004 European Championship Final, a 2-1 win for Luiz Felipe Scolari’s side at the Estádio José Alvalade secured with goals to Cristiano Ronaldo and Maniche.
Two years later was the infamous battle of Nürnberg at the 2006 World Cup. Portugal won 1-0 at the Max-Morlock-Stadion courtesy of Maniche’s 23rd minute winner before four players were sent off. Costinha, Khalid Boulahrouz, Deco and Giovanni van Bronckhorst all saw red with Russian referee Valentin Ivanov issuing an incredible 16 yellow cards.
The last competitive fixture between these nations was a 2-1 win for Portugal at the 2012 European Championship. Rafael van der Vaart put the Netherlands in front in Kharkiv, but a Cristiano Ronaldo brace saw Portugal advance to the knockout phase.
Two friendlies have followed, the first a 1-1 draw at the Estádio Do Algarve in 2013 with Cristiano Ronaldo equalising in the 87th minute. The last encounter was a friendly in Geneva in March 2018, a 3-0 Netherlands win with Memphis Depay, Ryan Babel and Virgil van Dijk on target before João Cancelo was sent off in the 62nd minute.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Netherlands have seen a resurgence since Ronald Koeman took charge in February 2018. Their central defence is the envy of nations worldwide, Matthijs de Ligt and Virgil van Dijk worth in excess of €150 million. Barcelona’s new €75 million signing Frenkie de Jong dominates midfield and Georginio Wijnaldum has the freedom to get involved in a number of positions.
Memphis Depay was primarily known as a winger before transitioning into a striker at Lyon which has continued for the Netherlands under Koeman. Winger Quincy Promes was involved in both extra time goals against England after replacing Ryan Babel, he is likely to start against Portugal.
Right-back Denzel Dumfries will be targeted by Portugal and Ronaldo, while left-back Daley Blind has been playing in central defence since returning to Ajax. Goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen has hardly featured for Barcelona since moving to Camp Nou, while de Ligt conceded a penalty against England after being put under pressure.
Ronald Koeman has had his system in place for over a year while Fernando Santos is very much experimenting with a modified formation and personnel. This match is difficult to call from a neutral perspective but home crowd and Ronaldo can be the difference makers in Porto.