PORTO: The final of UEFA’s newest competition will feature another clash between Cristiano Ronaldo and Virgil van Dijk.
The inaugural Nations League ends on Sunday in Porto with Ronaldo’s Portugal taking on the Netherlands of Van Dijk. The Portuguese superstar and the thriving Dutch defender haven’t met since last year’s Champions League final, when Ronaldo’s former team Real Madrid came out on top of Van Dijk’s Liverpool.
Ronaldo will try to lead Portugal to their first title since the 2016 European Championship, while Van Dijk will look to help the Netherlands lift their first international trophy since the 1988 European Championship.
Victory at Estadio do Dragao will give the Dutch some redemption after failing to qualify for the last two major tournaments, the 2018 World Cup and the 2016 European Championship.
“It isn’t a battle between two players, it’s a battle between Portugal and (the Netherlands),” said Dutch coach Ronald Koeman, who was a player at the 1988 Euros.
“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.” Van Dijk, touted as one of the best central defenders in the world, called Ronaldo “a fantastic player.”
“We play Portugal, we are not playing Cristiano Ronaldo,” he said. “They have a very good team. It’s going to be tough. We need to be ready.”
Van Dijk, who hasn’t allowed anyone to dribble past him in more than 60 consecutive matches, lifted the Champions League trophy last week with Liverpool, and was player of the final against Tottenham in Madrid.
Van Dijk also was voted the man of the match in the Netherlands’ 3-1 win over England on Thursday in the Nations League semi-finals.
Ronaldo was the man of the match for Portugal as they defeated Switzerland 3-1 on Wednesday in the other semifinal. Ronaldo scored a hat trick, with two of his goals coming in the final minutes.
Van Dijk is expected to be in the running for the world player of year award for the first time. He has already been named player of the year in the English Premier League. Ronaldo has won the world player of the year award five times.
“The Netherlands are an excellent team,” Ronaldo told UEFA’s website. “They have been playing pretty well. I’ve been watching them in recent matches and they have an excellent squad with great players young players and more experienced players, which makes their team even stronger.” On Sunday, the hosts will be without veteran central defender Pepe, who broke his right shoulder against Switzerland.
Koeman is expected to have all of his players available even though the Netherlands had one less day to rest for the final.
The winner on Sunday will be crowned the first champion of the competition UEFA created to give national teams more meaningful games and reduce the number of friendlies.
England and Switzerland will play the third-place match in Guimaraes earlier on Sunday.
Published in Dawn, June 9th, 2019