The prevailing wisdom among soccer cognoscenti is that Portugal will be hard pressed to defend their European Championship. The team has much of the same talent as they did at Euro 2016 but they’re getting a bit ‘long in the tooth’ and particularly on defense. The thinking is that their veteran talent won’t be able to keep up with the speed and athleticism of younger teams.
This might be true, but it doesn’t look like 34 year old Portugal superstar Cristiano Ronaldo got the memo. Ronaldo had been in a bit of a scoring slump in international play heading into the semifinal game against Switzerland. He hadn’t scored since the group stages of the 2018 World Cup but he ended his slump and then some–after opening the scoring in the first half Ronaldo scored twice in the final ten minutes of regulation to break a 1-1 tie and give Portugal a 3-1 win. With the victory, Portugal advances to the first ever UEFA Nations League Finals against The Netherlands.
The scoresheet indicates that Netherlands took a 3-1 victory over England but that doesn’t convey just how hard fought their semifinal game actually was. The game was tied late when England’s Jesse Lingard appeared to score a game winning goal–only to have it invalidated by a video review that showed he was barely offsides. This sent the game into added time and thanks to some uncharacteristically sloppy play by England’s defense the Dutch side scored twice to advance into the finals.
Both teams have concern about fatigue at the end of a long season of multiple competitions. Cristiano Ronaldo, for example, has been a crucial part of the offensive attack of Italian Serie A powerhouse Juventus all year long. Although fans were disappointed that Juventus was eliminated in the quarterfinals of both the Champions League and the Coppa Italia but the upside might have been a little less wear and tear for Portugal’s team leader. The Netherlands also had players involved in Champions League and Europa League play and they’re coming off a tough added time game. The Netherlands’ team is younger than Portugal, however, and the thinking is that they’ll bounce back nicely.
Portugal has lost only one of their last 11 games against Netherlands but that defeat came in the most recent meeting–a 2018 friendly which ended in a 3-0 Dutch clean sheet win. Netherlands might be a couple of offensive players away from being able to compete with Portugal but then again, they could take advantage of the team’s aging defense. Portugal has kept a clean sheet only twice in their last 7 games but they still have plenty of talent. Look for Ronaldo and Portugal to take advantage of an enthusiastic home crowd at the Estadio Do Dragao in Porto and win a high scoring contest.