Football Features

Portugal 3-1 Switzerland: Five things learned as Ronaldo fires European champions to Nations League final

By Ben Green

Published: 21:54, 5 June 2019

Portugal have booked their ticket to Sunday’s inaugural Uefa Nations League final after clinically dispatching Switzerland 3-1 at the Estadio do Dragao.

It was Vladimir Petkovic’s side who asked the early questions, testing Rui Patricio, but the European champions soon turned on the charm with Cristiano Ronaldo unleashing a thunderbolt free-kick to open the scoring.

There would then be a moment of controversy in the second half after referee Felix Brych awarded Portugal a spot-kick, before eventually overturning his decision upon consultation with VAR, and spectacularly awarding Switzerland a penalty for an earlier infringement.

Ricardo Rodriguez scored the resulting spot-kick, but this was the Ronaldo show, and the Portugal talisman soon put the game beyond doubt completing an outrageous hat-trick, netting in the 88th minute and 90th minute.

And so, after a pulsating encounter at the home of the Dragons, what did we learn?

1. Regal Ronaldo

Having not participated in any Nations League group-stage match for Portugal, the five-time Ballon d’Or winner announced his return to the international fold in emphatic fashion, walloping a bullet free-kick beyond the reach of Yann Sommer to break the deadlock, before completing a hat-trick in the dying embers.

All the noise before the match was on Portugal prodigy Joao Felix, the anointed heir to Ronaldo’s throne, the teenage sensation has been causing a tug-of-war match between Europe’s elite, but it was the stalwart, the Portuguese grandmaster who sent out a clear message to the new kid on the block: this is still my stage.

Indeed, the 34-year-old is of a different breed, a player who has almost frozen time as he continues to dominate both club and international football; this was his 86th, 87th and 88th goal for A Selecao das Quinas, further etching his immortality into Portugal folklore.

And so, despite all the hype surrounding Fernando Santos’ new generation of Portugal stars, it was always going to be Ronaldo who would take centre stage.

2. Shaqiri shines despite defeat

The diminutive playmaker came into this match off the back of a Champions League win with Liverpool, and he certainly looked a player who just contested in the final banquet of Europe’s blue riband competition – despite not making the pitch.

Shaqiri was sensational on Wednesday evening, pulling the creative strings from the heart of Switzerland’s operations, roaming laterally and vertically, and looking to dictate the Rossocrociati’s tempo of play.

For a player who continues to flourish to such a degree on the international stage, one can only wonder why the 27-year-old can’t replicate this kind of scintillating form at elite club level on a consistent basis.

He certainly impressed at stages for Liverpool this season – and his recent commitment to the club will come as welcome news to the Anfield faithful – but he was the fulcrum for the Swiss in Porto, a player on a different level, and one who has the potential to be just that on Merseyside.

3. Felix falls short on PL audition

According to Portuguese newspaper Correio da Manha, Manchester United and Manchester City have both tabled a £106m offer for Joao Felix, and so Wednesday was a fantastic opportunity for the talented tyro to showcase his worth.

It was, unfortunately for the fledgling forward, an uninspiring international debut, and while the Benfica starlet certainly showed glimmers of his undoubted potential with some neat touches and insatiable shimmies, the big occasion looked to have overwhelmed him.

Jose Fonte recently outlined his praise for the young Portugal international, telling Squawka: “We have Joao Felix – he’s a good prospect a good young player who can get there.”

The experienced Lille centre-back has played with some of the biggest names in the sport across his career and so will certainly know what it takes for a player to “get there”, to reach the highest level. This will serve as a significant learning curve in the development of Felix.

4. Special Silva

Bernardo Silva was simply brilliant in Porto, demonstrating exactly why he is so cherished by Pep Guardiola in the Catalan tactician’s all-conquering Manchester City side.

On Wednesday, the 24-year-old playmaker created more key chances than any player on the pitch (four), attempted the most take-ons (8), registered an assist and completed the most dribbles (five).

But Silva was not only a threat in the final third with his twinkle-toed feet and excellent vision, he also registered the most successful tackles (five) of any player on the pitch.

Guardiola not only embraces world-class technical skill in a player, but he also craves a footballer who can run for the team, someone who gives their all on the pitch, and Silva certainly embodies this heart-on-sleeve mentality, as he continues to go from strength to strength.

5. Magpies too hasty with Mbabu?

Take the first-half Ronaldo rinsing – in which the Juve star twice humiliated Kevin Mbabu with his balletic brilliance – out of the equation, and the Swiss international looked a frightening proposition at right full-back.

In the first half Mbabu created a quite ridiculous four key chances, galloping down the byline before teeing up Haris Seferovic on a number of occasions, though the Benfica forward failed to capitalise on the home of the Eagles’ rivals.

The name Mbabu will sound familiar on Tyneside, as the 24-year-old was a once promising Newcastle teenager. Signed from Servette in 2013 as a 17-year-old, the buccaneering defender failed to make the grade and eventually pitched up at Young Boys in 2017 after failing to impress Rafa Benitez.

But it has been at the Stade de Suisse where Mbabu has truly realised his potential, taking his game to new heights, culminating in a move to Wolfsburg this summer, where he is set to play a prominent role in Bruno Labbadia’s XI next season.