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De Ligt on his and the Netherlands' meteoric rise

Matthijs de Ligt discusses Sunday's final, the spirit in the Dutch squad and his own meteoric rise.

Netherlands defender Matthijs de Ligt
Netherlands defender Matthijs de Ligt ©Getty Images

Matthijs de Ligt played a central role in the Netherlands' 3-1 semi-final victory over England in Guimaraes, conceding the penalty that led to the opening goal before cancelling it out with a thundering header.

The 19-year-old Ajax defender, one of the world's most coveted young players, spoke to UEFA.com about Sunday's UEFA Nations League final showdown with host nations Portugal, the spirit in the Dutch squad and his own meteoric rise.

UEFA.com: You came from 1-0 down to beat England 3-1. There's a lot of spirit and character in this team, isn't there?

Netherlands 3-1 England, aet

Matthijs de Ligt: Yes, definitely. Of course we have good players individually but, above all, we're a good team, and up until now that's been the basis of our good results. Preferably we don't want to fall behind but if that happens, you want a team that can turn it around, and I think we've proven that.

You're playing against hosts Portugal on Sunday. What are your expectations?

Portugal will be eager and motivated, so we really have to bring our A game. Ronaldo is a phenomenon, and he showed again this season at Juventus that he can score from anywhere. But you shouldn't adjust your entire tactics for him, because Portugal have other great players too. We'll just have to focus on our own tasks and make sure Portugal can't dictate play.

You're a regular in the national team now. How does it feel when you pull on that orange shirt?

De Ligt powers in his header against England
De Ligt powers in his header against England©Getty Images

There is no bigger honour than this. I'm enjoying it to the fullest and I'm hoping to wear the Netherlands jersey many more times in the future. We're on the rise, Dutch fans are enjoying the way we're playing. Should we win the Nations League, that would confirm it.

This will be your second major final after the 2017 UEFA Europa League decider. You also played in the UEFA Champions League semi-finals this season, and are captain of Ajax. Do you have to pinch yourself sometimes?

No, no, I'm just taking it day by day. It's all happening really fast, and there's no doubt that I will look back on a fantastic season during my holidays, but not yet. When I'm playing with players in their mid-twenties and thirties, it never enters my head that I'm only 19. I don't focus on my age, but on the way I perform.

As a defender, your main task is to prevent other teams scoring. But you also score important goals, like the one against England on Thursday. What makes you feel most proud: helping keep a clean sheet, or scoring a goal?

Of course, the main task for a defender is to keep a clean sheet; that's very important. But scoring is the most beautiful part of being a footballer. Scoring a goal is amazing.