Cristiano Ronaldo made the story about the joy of football with a hat-trick that be his best yet
The narrative to the opening Nations League semi-final should have been solely about the man in Red with the number seven on his back and magic in his boots but, instead, an incident in the 57th minute made it remarkable for the wrong reasons.
It appeared that Switzerland had conceded a penalty after Bernardo Silva had been tripped but German referee Felix Brych was asked to consider an incident up the other end of the field that had happened between Portugal right-back Nelson Semedo and Switzerland’s Steven Zuber.
Nothing looked out of the ordinary to the naked eye but Brych looked, looked and looked again. The longer he studied, the more you knew Portugal were in trouble and so it proved.
The hosts’ spot-kick was ruled out, one was awarded to Switzerland and Ricardo Rodriguez duly equalised.
This was ridiculous. You should feel content after VAR has come into play but, on this occasion, it was horribly unsatisfactory and switched the narrative from what would have been a straightforward Portugal victory to a tension-filled battle.
Nobody had done more than Ronaldo to put the hosts in Sunday’s final back here in Sport and the goal he scored on his 157th international appearance was one of his very best; everyone inside the stadium knew what he was going to do in the 25th minute as he stood like a matador.
Familiarity, however, doesn’t make you immune to it. Ronaldo duly scored the first Nations League semi-final final goal with a dipping, swerving shot that bamboozled Switzerland keeper Yann Sommer in the way Jimmy Anderson’s reverse-swing flummoxes batsman. It was just marvellous.
This tournament may attract derision but Ronaldo’s appetite to win it on home soil is voracious. He will never forget falling short as an 18-year-old in 2004, when Portugal hosted the European Championships, but it would be special for him to deliver a trophy in front of his people.
And you saw how much he wanted it. When it appeared that extra-time was looming, Ronaldo scored two goals in two minutes that left the stadium bouncing and Switzerland shattered. It was a privilege to witness.
Patrício, Semedo, Pepe, Dias. Guerreiro, Fernandes, Carvalho, Neves, Silva, Felix, Ronaldo
Cancelo, Fonte, Moutinho, Sousa, Jota, Malheiro de Sá, Silva, Guedes, Rui, Fernandes, Beto
Goals: Ronaldo (25, 88, 90)
Sommer, Mbabu, Schär, Akanji, Rodríguez, Zakaria, Xhaka, Freuler, Zuber, Shaqiri, Seferovic
Moubandje, Elvedi, Lang, Okafor. Steffen, Mvogo, Benito, Ajeti, Sow, Drmic, Fernandes, Omlin
Bookings: Schar, Xhaka, Shaqiri
Goals: Rodriguez (57)