Sat. Aug 24th, 2019

Nations League Final

3 min read

Uefa Nations League Final: Portugal vs Netherlands a tantalising end to successful inaugural tournament, Virgil van Dijk up against Cristiano Ronaldo is the contest everyone at Uefa will have wanted to see in their first-ever Nations League Final.

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Their countries, the Netherlands and Portugal, are the final two of 55 nations that began this new tournament, created to revive international football.

Mindless England fans have this week brought further shame on the thousands who travel respectfully following the Three Lions, but that is a problem for the FA and authorities back home to tackle.

It should not reflect upon this tournament.

There have been some teething problems throughout – it took a while to understand exactly how those who won their respective groups could earn a place at Euro 2020, while there have been ticketing and travel issues here in Portugal.

The competition as a whole, however, has been quite the success. Take the losing semi-finalists as an example.

The Swiss supporters appeared delighted simply to be here, though those within the camp will be disappointed not to have beaten the hosts on Wednesday.

England were in dismay after their defeat, exciting progress checked by a talented Dutch side.

Their disappointment will fade, and what is left behind will be more memories than drab friendlies during maligned international breaks could every bring.

Vladimir Petkovic’s Switzerland came from 2-0 down to beat the top-ranked side in the world, Belgium, 5-2 in their group stage, while England fans will never forget their trip to Spain or Harry Kane’s late Wembley winner against Croatia, less than a year after Luca Modric and co had downed them in the World Cup semi-final.

The third-place play-off will be a strange affair, but the final looks a tantalising contest.

Ronaldo delivered the stuff of dreams for fans and suits alike in Wednesday’s semi-final, scoring a sublime hat-trick to seal a late win over Switzerland in a game which started slowly but delivered fantastic drama in a packed second half.

Those within the home camp are addicted to winning titles, they say. Goalkeeper Rui Patricio spoke of ‘racking them up’ as the group look to follow their Euro 2016 win here by becoming the first side to win the Nations League.

For the Dutch, this contest marks validation that what they have been doing under Ronald Koeman is working. Their journey has also been remarkable.

Having missed the last two major tournaments, the Netherlands’ group saw them up against the last two World Cup winners in Germany and France.

“If we go back when we saw the draw in a group with France and Germany nobody expected Holland to win the group,” Koeman said. “Now we are in the final it is a pleasure to play the final and it is not pressure, we know what we need to do.

“We need to play good football, good defending and we showed that against England. We beat France, Germany, England and will be unbelievable if we beat Portugal at home in the final.

“It is a prize, that is what we need. It confirms we are moving in the right direction.”

It is of course never going to match up to the European Championships or the World Cup, and has been heavily criticised by the likes of Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino for adding further strain to their players’ schedules.

Club managers against those at international level is a battle which will never end, though.

It will take a few more finals to place the importance of the Nations League, but it has more than served its purpose in keeping that international feelgood factor ticking along nicely following a wonderful World Cup in Russia

Victory here was not to be for England, but across the five Nations League games which have brought them to this point, the squad, fans and management will have gained incomparably more than even double the amount of friendlies could bring.

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