The inaugural Nations League final presents Cristiano Ronaldo with the chance to personally secure silverware for Portugal for the first time – but he will have to get past Virgil van Dijk and the Netherlands if he is to get his hands on the trophy.
Ronaldo’s record in international finals pales into insignificance when compared to his formidable club record. The tears after the heartache on home soil at the hands of Greece in the Euro 2004 final were followed by a different challenge at Euro 2016, where injury cruelly ruled him out with just 25 minutes played.
Ronaldo still played his part in Paris, hobbling down the touchline and barking out instructions as Portugal secured their first victory in a major tournament, but you can be sure he was envious of Eder’s title-winning contribution in extra-time.
Three years on, though, the stage is set for the five-time Ballon d’Or winner to steal the show, and form suggests it may well be third-time lucky after his sensational hat-trick against Switzerland sealed Portugal’s passage to the final.
‘Together we can become champions’
Ronaldo speaking to UEFA.com: “When I pull on the shirt of the national team, it’s a huge honour for me and it’s a different feeling than it is playing for clubs.SAS GEO ERRORThis video is not authorized in your locationRELOAD YOUR SCREEN OR TRY SELECTING A DIFFERENT VIDEOHighlights of the UEFA Nations League semi-final match between Portugal and Switzerland
“I grew up in Portugal, so it’s special to put on the shirt of the national team. And, obviously, the chance to fight for trophies makes it even more special – like it was in Euro 2004 and Euro 2016, and how this competition will be now.
“Three finals and I hope to win two of the three. That would be fantastic, and I have hope − so does the team. We are positive; we are playing at home.
“I hope the stadium will be great, that there will be good energy, that this energy will be transmitted to us, and that everyone can be confident, because we will try to give our best. Together, we can become champions.”
More to it than Ronaldo vs Van Dijk
Ronaldo is showing no sign of abating, even at the ripe old age of 34, but if you had to task any defender in world football to stop him, you’d probably opt for Van Dijk.
The Netherlands centre-back and captain is arguably the best in Europe after guiding Liverpool to victory in the Champions League final and heads into Sunday’s final on the back of his imperious semi-final performance against England.SAS GEO ERRORThis video is not authorized in your locationRELOAD YOUR SCREEN OR TRY SELECTING A DIFFERENT VIDEOHighlights of the UEFA Nations League semi-final match between Netherlands and England
There’s no denying that Van Dijk and Ronaldo are the star players for the Netherlands and Portugal, but both camps have distanced themselves from the potential showdown between the two.
“We play Portugal, we are not playing Cristiano Ronaldo,” Van Dijk said. “They have a very good team. It’s going to be tough. We need to be ready.”
Netherlands boss Ronald Koeman added: “It isn’t a battle between two players, it’s a battle between Portugal and Holland.
“We know that sometimes it’s impossible to defend well against Cristiano Ronaldo. The best thing we can do is to keep the ball and have good ball possession because when we have the ball, he can do nothing in attack.”
Nations League final stats
- Portugal have reached their second major final in the last three years, having won Euro 2016 in France.
- Netherlands are appearing in their first final since the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. The Dutch have lost three of their last four major finals, their last win came in the Euro 1988 final.
- Portugal have only lost two of their 13 previous meetings with international meetings with Netherlands in all competitions (W7 D4).
- Netherlands have never beaten Portugal in Portugal, drawing two and losing three of their five meetings in all competitions.
- 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 FIFA World Cup.
- In their semi-final victory over Switzerland, Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo netted his 53rd hat-trick for club and country.
- 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.
- Jasper Cillessen will become just the fifth different goalkeeper to earn 50 caps for the Netherlands after Edwin van der Sar (130), Hans van Breukelen (73), Maarten Stekelenburg (58) and Gejus van der Meulen (54).