The UEFA Nations League continued proving it’s a superior alternative than garbage friendlies after Switzerland and Portugal turned it on in a brilliant Semi-Final at the Estadio do Dragao in Porto.
Until the final, Ronaldo hadn’t featured in the UEFA Nations Cup, but you don’t leave a man who has scored 85 international goals in156 matches, and who Portuguese children sing nursery rhymes about, on the sidelines.
And now, there’s a new nursery rhyme.
Ronaldo scored three times, two in the dying embers of a game destined for extra time and penalties, with the dangerous Swiss looking the likelier of the two sides to progress to Sunday’s final.
It was the 53rd hat-trick of the 34-year-old’s extraordinary career, and his first strikes in a year, and it all began in the 25th-minute when Ronaldo picked himself up off the floor, to slam a trademark free-kick past an immobile Yann Sommer.
Video replays showing that Kevin Mbabu took the ball before Ronaldo, and it also came against the run of play, with Xherdan Shaqiri orchestrating things brilliantly including two pinpoint crosses for Haris Seferović, one that the Benfica forward inexplicably ducked below a near-post header, and the second that saw his shot skim the top of the crossbar.
At the other end, the Portuguese lacked a cutting edge with the debutant João Félix out of his depth, including skying over the bar after a mesmerising through ball from Ronaldo as he cheekily looked the other way, and they went into the half time break trailing against the Swiss in all stats except the most important one.
Then 12-minutes after the break, the VAR controversy the world has been waiting for since the technology came into being. With a through ball about to land on the head of Switzerland’s Steven Zuber, Nelson Semedo’s stride sent Zuber sprawling to the canvas. The referee allowed play to continue, but you saw him tap his headset, inferring that the VAR was taking a second look at the incident. The Portuguese counter-attacked swiftly, and the referee awarded a penalty to Portugal after a Swiss defender downed Bernardo Silva.
With the referee finally taking a breath, he spoke to the VAR team and indicated that he would first take a look at the potential Switzerland penalty. The replays showed that Semedo never took his eyes off the ball as he accidentally clipped the heels of Zuber, but it was enough for the ref to award the penalty, cancelling his previous decision to award one for Portugal.
Are you still with me?
Switzerland didn’t deserve the penalty, but they did deserve to be level after Ricardo Rodriguez scored from the spot.
The game continued with Switzerland far the better team, with Shaqiri making the Portuguese midfield look like a bunch of corpses firing through ball after through ball into Seferović, who on another day could have had a hat-trick. Only, on this day, someone else would claim the match ball.
With two minutes of normal time remaining, and the game petering out into an additional 30-minutes, Bernardo Silva got on the end of a sumptuous long ball from midfield to set up Ronaldo to smash the ball home at the near post.
The Swiss kicked-off for the restart, Granit Xhaka immediately lost the ball, and Ronaldo broke free, bamboozled the defender with a few step-overs before putting the ball beyond Sommer’s dive to seal the victory for the men in red.
The Portuguese face either the Netherlands or England in Sunday’s final with the winner locking up a berth in the 2020 European Championships, where Portugal will hope to defend their title.
Portugal 3 v 1 Switzerland
To Be Played
England v Netherlands (Thu, 6 June)
Portugal – 9/5
England – 5/2