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Portugal Win First UEFA Nations League

Portugal Win Nations League

There was moment deep in the second half when Cristiano Ronaldo went back into his own penalty area and began to bark out orders.

Rui Patricio, the Wolves goalkeeper, was lectured; so too was Portugal left-back Raphael Guerreiro. The hosts had just taken the lead in the Nations League final and the message from the man who has carried his country’s hopes and dreams was clear: this does not slip.

Ronaldo will never forget the pain he went through in 2004, when Portugal lost at home in the final of the European Championships to Greece, and it would be wrong to say that this new tournament carried the same kind of emotion and kudos.

What could not be disguised, though, was Ronaldo’s desire to lead Portugal to victory as hosts and, ultimately, he got the job done. There were no fireworks, as was the case in the semi-final victory over Switzerland, but that did not matter,

One goal was enough for the Portuguese and it was scored by Valencia’s Goncalo Guedes in the 60th minute; the replays will give Netherlands goalkeeper Jesper Cillessen nightmares but the celebrations from Ronaldo and his colleagues showed just what it meant to them.

Few could begrudge them this triumph. The reigning European champions have produced the best performances here and professionalism and determination carried them over the line. Try as the Netherlands did, there was just no way through.

Hosting the tournament is a responsibility the Portuguese have taken seriously and the mood outside the stadium beforehand was in keeping with a final – with local fans were hanging off walls and lampposts to see the team bus arrive.

Portugal had the better opportunities before the break and their standout performer was Bruno Fernandes, the Sporting Lisbon midfielder who continues to be linked to Manchester City. He is all class, that is for sure, and he stamped his presence quickly on the contest.

Fernandes had the first shot of the game in the 11th minute – a stinging drive that Netherlands keeper Jasper Cillessen turned away – and he followed up with a glorious back-heel to set up another counterattack. If a few more players had shown such invention, it would have been an easier watch.

As it was, though, the two sides cancelled each other out. All the talk before had been of the showdown between Van Dijk and Ronaldo but the only time they squared up was in the 28th minute when the Liverpool defender comfortably turned away a half-volley.

Portugal had 12 shots in the opening 45 minutes but there wasn’t one to cause Cillessen anxiety. Van Dijk and Matthijas de Ligt were in complete control and Ronaldo’s frustration was such that he resorted to roaming from side to side to get some freedom.

Two-thirds of this Netherlands team is a match for anyone but they sorely lack in attack and the only opening they had came from errant Bruno Fernandes pass; he presented Steven Bergwijn with the chance to scurry 60 yards but Jose Fonte, the wily veteran, kept pace and ushered him away.

Thankfully the quality improved after the break. The prospect of extra-time was unappealing to all and both teams began to press more.

It would be Portugal who found the all-important moment and right at the heart of it was Bernardo Silva, who has enjoyed such a magnificent campaign.

The Manchester City midfielder, with his boundless energy, surged deep into the Netherlands half as they regrouped after a substitution and played a reverse pass to Guedes.

He steadied himself and cracked a right-footed drive that bent Cillessen’s hand as it flew into the net. The job was done.