Granit Xhaka on the Losing Side as C. Ronaldo Blitzes Switzerland
The end of season paves the way for some international football without disruptions which allows nations to feature their best talent in their respective bids to win the competitions they are registered in. It seems like eons ago, but many were skeptical about the UEFA Nations League tournament but following some brilliant matches as well as some good organization I must say, we are down to the last four of the inaugural tourney as Portugal took on Switzerland in front of a capacity crowd with a chance for another European final.
Just three years ago, they went to France and grabbed home the European Championships, even though the hosts were overwhelming favorites to go home with the trophy. Three years on and Fernando Santos side, led by their inspirational captain, Cristiano Ronaldo, locked horns with a Swiss team led by Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka. The Swiss might not be world beaters but they have held their own well in recent matches, since their Round of 16 exit in the 2018 FIFA World Cup. They left a lot to be desired with their defending when they gave up a shock 3-0 lead against Denmark to draw 3-3, but they were fully aware of the threat Portugal would pose, especially with the likes of Ronaldo in their ranks.
We didn’t wait to long to see the Swiss net bulge as Ronaldo stepped up to dispatch a well taken free kick that left Yann Sommer rooted with no chance in Hell. The usually reliable Manuel Akanji struggled alongside Fabian Schar, as Portugal continued to barrage the Swiss with waves and waves of attack. The Swiss had some good chances of their own with Xherdan Shaqiri clean through on goal but Rui Patricio was on hand to make a point blank save. Haris Seferovic, that plies his trade in Portugal, had a glorious chance as well, but his effort smashed the wrong side of the cross bar and went over.
Our darling VAR wasn’t going to be left out, as it was used to determine a penalty that was awarded to Switzerland when Nelson Semedo was adjudged to have pushed Steven Zubar. Rui Patricio guessed right to dive in the direction of Ricardo Rodriguez’s penalty but he was really disappointed to see the ball creep under him to level the contest for the Swiss. It wasn’t against the run of play as Switzerland had been giving Portugal a run for their money in what I’d regard as a balanced game.
We never want to see any of these professionals suffer any injuries but it wasn’t a pleasurable sight for the experienced Pepe, as injury forced the hand of the gaffer to bring on Jose Fonte. Good job by Ruben Neves holding the fort while Pepe was being treated. For such a technical metronome in midfield, he wasn’t half bad in the few moments he served his nation as a make shift center back.
For a player that picked up 14 yellow cards across four competitions last season, it was no surprise to see Granit Xhaka in the book again, when he tried to swap jerseys with Bernardo Silva. I guess he couldn’t wait till the end of the game.
With extra time looming, I was wondering whether there was going to be a match winner in regulation time but as the saying goes, ‘cometh the hour, cometh the man‘ and Portugal’s main man, Cristiano Ronaldo, delivered once again, arriving late in the box to fire in a near post piledriver from B. Silva’s cut back. Sommer was nowhere to be found when Ronaldo’s free kick embarrassed him in the first half but conceding that way in his near post was really questionable. Ronaldo certainly wasn’t done with the proceedings as he rolled back the years with some fancy footwork late on before blasting a trademark drive to the bottom corner.
90 minutes played, one chance created, 91% pass accuracy, 29 accurate passes, 49 touches, 10 duels, three attempted dribbles (all successful), five shots and most importantly, three goals scored. If that’s not a Man of the Match performance from Ronaldo, then I certainly don’t know what that is.
Commiserations to Granit Xhaka and his proud nation that reached the semis of the UEFA Nations League, but it was all about Cristiano Ronaldo, that has guided his nation to yet another final.
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