Cristiano Ronaldo a 'football genius' after hat-trick sends Portugal to Nations League final
The 53rd treble of his career came amid some VAR-related controversy at the Estadio do Dragao
Portugal manager Fernando Santos described Cristiano Ronaldo as a "football genius" after the captain scored his 53rd hat-trick on Wednesday to lead his side in to the Uefa Nations League final.
Reigning European champions Portugal defeated Switzerland 3-1 at the Estadio do Dragao, although the hosts had to withstand a huge moment of VAR controversy. After Ronaldo's free-kick opened the scoring, Portugal thought they had the chance to double their lead from the penalty spot.
Instead German referee Felix Brych reversed his initial decision and awarded a spot-kick at the other end for an earlier incident, which Ricardo Rodriguez converted to seemingly send the game to extra-time.
However, Ronaldo predictably took centre stage as he struck twice in the final two minutes to set up a clash.
"I was his coach in 2003 and I could see where he'd go," said Santos, who worked with a teenage Ronaldo at Sporting Lisbon. "He's a genius. There's genius paintings and sculptures and he's a football genius!"
Portugal made it to the last four without their all-time record goalscorer as Ronaldo took a hiatus from international football to concentrate on his first season at Juventus.
However, the five-time Ballon d'Or winner returned to the national team in March and was always likely to be the centre of attention.
In front of an adoring home crowd, Ronaldo put the spotlight back on his performance on the pitch as he opened the scoring with a brilliant free-kick.
The Portugal captain is however no longer his country's only star name, with Bernardo Silva starring for English treble-winners Manchester City where he could soon be joined by Joao Felix.
City are reported to be among the clubs interested in the Benfica midfielder, but the 19-year-old missed a glaring chance to mark his international debut with a goal just before the break when he blasted over from Ronaldo's pass.
Switzerland had posed a threat themselves in the first half with Xherdan Shaqiri, fresh from winning the Champions League with Liverpool, particularly lively.
However, it took the help of VAR to get them back in the game just before the hour mark. Brych had waved away appeals for a foul by Nelson Semedo on Steven Zuber before awarding Portugal a penalty as play broke down at the other end, but overturned his initial decision.
Rodriguez drilled home the resultant spot-kick much to the fury of the home supporters. The Swiss could then have gone in front when Benfica forward Haris Seferovic headed just wide.
By contrast, Portugal had one of the deadliest finishers in football history on the end of their chances.
"Congratulations to Portugal. They had street smarts, they had the cherry on top of the cake and that made the difference. Four shots, three goals," said Switzerland manager Vladimir Petkovic.
Silva was the creator for Ronaldo to drill home his second of the night two minutes from time.
Moments later the hosts sealed their place in the final on the counter-attack as Ronaldo curled into the far corner for his 88th international goal.
Published: June 6, 2019 04:34 PM