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Cristiano Ronaldo gets his hands on another trophy


Portugal are the first Nations League champions, after winning an intense, hard-fought final against the Netherlands last night. On what was a fine stage for retiring referee Alberto Undiano to bow out on, we were treated to an enjoyable game and a fitting finale to a competition that has definitely won me over, but which I'm not sure if the fans have quite fallen in love with yet. Portugal's victory obviously didn't spark the same jubilation as their triumph at the European Championship two years ago. This isn't a trophy on that level. However, it does mean that, once again, they have finished a pan-European tournament top of the pile - and, when you look at all the good players they have right now, it's no real surprise.

Nations League has been a success and is here to stay

Portugal's players celebrate as Cristiano Ronaldo lifts the Nations League trophy.
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Portugal's players celebrate as Cristiano Ronaldo lifts the Nations League trophy.CARL RECINEAction Images via Reuters

As I say, I've been won over by the Nations League. I enjoyed the group stage, which brought with it the welcome change of separating national sides into tiers. That way, instead of being subjected to games like the Faroe Islands vs Spain, what we get is evenly-matched groups and a system in which the lower-ranking countries have something to play for: after all, they have the opportunity to gain promotion to the league above. The opening stage was held on dates that had hitherto been reserved for meaningless friendlies, and this four-team final phase (which, in the 1960s, was what the Euros looked like) has, as expected, provided excitement and good football. It's a tournament that is here to stay, of that I'm quite sure.

Portugal, who sprang a surprise by picking Gonçalo Guedes over Joao Félix and changing their system, were worthy winners. They kept Frenkie de Jong quiet, and in Cristiano had a man who, on top of his habitual forward threat, brought the presence and calm they needed when the going got tough. They deserved to go ahead sooner than they did. After conceding, the Dutch finally went for it in attack, but came up against a sturdy defence and resorted to the other De Jong, Luuk, as a target man for balls into the box. That didn't work either, though. Cristiano lifted the newly-minted cup, and again threw down the gauntlet to Lionel Messi, who is preparing for another go at the Copa América; he has unfinished business there.