Yann Sommer seemed to sum up the giddy excitement around Joao Felix being handed a full international debut when the sight of the Portugal youngster scampering towards him, inside the first 30 seconds at Estadio do Dragao, caused the Switzerland goalkeeper to fall over.
Danger was averted on that occasion in the first semi-final of the inaugural Nations League Finals, but this was a match that never fully seemed to regain its balance until the mercurial Cristiano Ronaldo stood the whole thing on its head, inspired a 3-1 win and walked off with the match ball.
Of course, all eyes were on him once more – that’s just the 88 international goals and 53 career hat-tricks – even if that was not entirely the case at kick-off.
Joao Felix moves with a lightness across the turf that suggests he knows he belongs and a dream €120million move to a European heavyweight probably still resides in his immediate future. However, he met with streetwise Swiss defenders more than happy to dish out some doses of reality.
Remo Freuler swiped the ball off his twinkling toes early on, while an attempt to enter the penalty area by lifting it over Fabian Schar resulted in the Newcastle United defender slamming the door in his face.
Portugal are in the #NationsLeague final!
Thanks to a hat-trick from… Cristiano Ronaldo!
— UEFA Nations League (@UEFAEURO) June 5, 2019
It was another once sought-after teen – now 27 and aware that the big moves to the super clubs are not necessarily all sunshine and roses – who stood out in an enterprising Switzerland display.
Xherdan Shaqiri forced Rui Patricio into a sharp reaction save on his side’s first attack and his educated left foot dealt out plenty of lessons to a Portugal team whose disjointed 4-4-2 diamond shape smacked of last-minute revision.
If only Haris Seferovic had brought the form that saw him pilfer 23 Primeira Liga goals for Benfica this season up to Portugal’s second city. The striker hit a Shaqiri cross into the turf and against the top of the crossbar in the 42nd minute, having passed up two other inviting chances.
When these sides were paired together in qualification for the 2018 World Cup, winning a game apiece, Portugal conceded four goals in the whole campaign. On Wednesday they could arguably have let in four by half-time.
At that stage they led because Ronaldo launched one of those fizzing rockets from a free-kick he engineered himself. Sommer’s defensive wall disintegrated and his net rippled.
2 – Two of Cristiano Ronaldo’s last three goals for Portugal have come from direct free-kicks; only two of his previous 52 goals prior to this have come via this manner. Laser. pic.twitter.com/39djeDva7f
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) June 5, 2019
Before the break, Ronaldo had started to rove deeper and out to the wing. One dazzling piece of skill left Kevin Mbabu sprawling, while a wonderful lofted ball represented a possible torch-passing moment. Joao Felix lifted his shot tamely over.
This will hurt for a Switzerland side, whose aversion to knockout victories remains. They were again the better side after the resumption. Their controversial VAR penalty – Ricardo Rodriguez converting after Nelson Semedo was adjudged to have impeded Steven Zuber – was another opening created by Shaqiri, playing with a spring in his step and a Champions League medal in his pocket.
Vladimir Petkovic’s men left an undulating contest in the balance, which meant it was Ronaldo o’clock. Every element of the game-breaking goal, from Ruben Neves’ searching pass to Bernardo Silva’s silken first touch and a laser-guided finish was majestic.
Neves and Silva will shine for Portugal when the 34-year-old Ronaldo finally leaves the centre stage he adores. As will Joao Felix, who was looking on from the bench by the time the trademark stepover came out and a solo effort was thrashed into Sommer’s bottom corner.
Portugal’s next generation will get much better. And time is on their side, because the main man is going absolutely nowhere just yet.
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