Portugal 3-1 Switzerland: Ronaldo hattrick leads Portugal to Nations League final
The Nations League continued in the same manner that it started all those months ago with Portugal and Switzerland battling out another truly entertaining match in the inaugural edition of the European competition.
And it was Portugal that eventually came out on top - although only just, and only due to some epic finishing from talisman Cristiano Ronaldo, who earned a hattrick thanks to two late goals that sank an impressive Switzerland.
Indeed, Portugal’s opposition edged the game almost throughout and had the composure on the ball and the attacking intent to justify more from the game.
However, it was Portugal that came out on top in a tense affair, and a place in the final against one of the Netherlands and England now awaits.
How it unfolded
Portugal were the side to score first, although Switzerland had opportunities of their own prior to Ronaldo’s epic free-kick, Shaqiri finding himself in a one-on-one position in the opening minutes but unable to beat Rui Patricio between the sticks, while Benfica’s Haris Seferovic then failed to connect with a delightful cross that brushed the outside of Patricio’s right-hand post.
And Switzerland were punished for their lack of composure in front of goal when Portugal were awarded a dubious free-kick in the 25th minute; Cristiano Ronaldo, who earned the free-kick, ultimately took it, and a delightful swerving strike completely wrong-footed Sommer in the Swiss goal before the ball dropped into the bottom right corner.
Portugal managed to hold onto their slender lead going into half time, although Switzerland had their chances; only an epic Ruben Dias tackle prevented what looked like a certain goal-scoring opportunity when Rui Patricio was found outside his area, while Shaqiri then struck the crossbar late in the half.
There was more drama, and potential controversy, in the second half too.
In what was a fairly surreal scenario, VAR had a big say on the development of the game, switching momentum directly from Portugal to Switzerland. It started when Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka delivered a deep cross into the box; Pepe jumped up to try and header the ball but missed, before Nelson Semedo swept in to header back to the goalkeeper. Cue uproar from the Swiss players, who were adamant that the ball had made contact with Pepe’s arm in the process, but referee Felix Byrch was unmoved.
Instead, the game continued and Portugal sprung on the counter, going right up to the other end where Bernardo Silva was brought down in the box, forcing the German referee to point to the spot.
However, after a lengthy review by VAR, Byrch was told to go and look at the touchline monitor to review the incident at the other end; while the ball did not make contact with Pepe’s arm, Nelson Semedo was shown to inadvertently make contact with the leg of Switzerland’s Steven Zuber; a slight touch, but sufficient to make Byrch change his mind - and instead of a penalty for Portugal to potentially make it 2-0, Switzerland were awarded the opportunity to level the game.
And in the 57th minute, that’s exactly what they did, Ricardo Rodriguez converting from the spot, the ball squirming in under the diving Rui Patricio.
After that point, it was Switzerland that look more composed and assured, and if anyone was likely to score, it looked to be the away side.
Portugal were happy to let Switzerland have the ball for lengthy periods though, with centrebacks Ruben Dias and Jose Fonte happily heading away any balls delivered into the box.
And for all of Switzerland’s possession and impressive intent, they didn’t make too many clear-cut chances, and when you have the individual qualities that Portugal have, if you don’t make the most of when you’re on top, you will be punished.
That’s exactly what happened in the 88th minute when a delightful Ruben Neves cross-field pass met the path of Bernardo Silva, who dragged the ball back to Cristiano Ronaldo, who lashed the ball into the back of the net. Cue ecstasy from the home support as they saw their main man come up big when it mattered most yet again.
And there was time for one final cheer for the Portuguese support when Xhaka inadvertently gave the ball away at the halfway line, unleashing another lethal Portuguese counter attack with substitute Goncalo Guedes releasing Cristiano Ronaldo who sprinted forwards before cutting inside and delicately placing his shot into the back of the net for the third time on the night.
A legend of the game, securing yet another hattrick for his adoring country. 34 years of age and still getting Portugal out of trouble when needed the most.
The future is bright for Portugal - but the present is most certainly Cristiano when it comes to the Selecao.
Portugal find out their opposition tonight, with the Netherlands taking on England in Guimaraes.
For those in the UK that want to watch Portugal in the Nations League final but don't have access to Sky Sports, see below for details*...
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