When Cristiano Ronaldo completed a stunning hat-trick to fire Portugal into the final of the Nations League, Jose Fonte looked on knowingly.
Veteran centre-back Fonte had been thrust into the fray at Estadio do Dragao after fellow long-time national team servant Pepe suffered an arm injury during the second half.
Ricardo Rodriguez’s controversial VAR-review penalty in the 57th minute cancelled out Ronaldo’s blistering first-half free-kick and Portugal struggled for significant periods against Vladimir Petkovic’s enterprising Swiss side.
But Ronaldo combined with Bernardo Silva after Ruben Neves sublimely picked out the Manchester City playmaker to fire the hosts ahead two minutes from time, before a similarly superb solo strike secured the matchball – an 88th international goal and 53rd hat-trick of a stellar professional career.
“It’s not surprising, that is what he does and what he is paid for club wise,” Lille defender Fonte said afterwards on Wednesday,
“When he comes here we don’t expect anything else, that is why he is the best in the world.
“It is good to have him and we just need to explore in the best way we can and do the work for him.”
— UEFA Nations League (@UEFAEURO) June 5, 2019
It certainly felt like an exercise in exploration for the most part as Portugal, operating with Silva at the tip of a diamond midfield including the free-scoring Bruno Fernandes, tried with mixed success to service Ronaldo and 19-year-old Benfica protege Joao Felix.
Sporting CP’s Fernandes and Joao Felix – the latter making a much-anticipated international debut – failed to bring their sparkling club form to bear, but Fonte feels it will be a matter of time.
“We have lots of talent coming through, we are blessed having so many good players,” he said.
“Now it is just about gelling everyone, incorporating these players we have coming up and finding the best solution for our development.
“We are going to try and improve our game, our style and we are just blessed to have so many good players.”
Fonte added: “We created a magnificent second goal – good movement, everyone involved – and then the third goal killed the game and finished it in style.”
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