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Koeman celebrates good season despite loss to Portugal

PORTO, Portugal (AP) — Dutch coach Ronald Koeman celebrated the Netherland's season despite Sunday's loss to Portugal in the Nations League final. Koeman said the 1-0 defeat against the hosts at the Estádio do Dragão shouldn't take anything away from the progress made by the squad in a rebuilding season.

"To play in a final, even if you don't win it, you take that experience with you for the next time," he said. "We know we've made big steps over the year, in the Nations League campaign, against Germany, against France, against England, against Portugal... maybe four of the five or six strongest teams in Europe, so that's really positive."

Koeman, who took over the squad last year, has revamped the national team after it failed to qualify for the last two major tournaments — the 2018 World Cup and the 2016 European Championship. It made it to the Final Four of the Nations League, UEFA's newest competition, by eliminating the last two World Cup champions in the group stage — France and Germany. It reached Sunday's final after defeating England 3-1 in extra time on Thursday.

"I'm really proud of the spirit of this team, it wasn't enough tonight, but the whole campaign was really very positive," he said. Koeman said maybe the team still needs some time before it can take the next step and win a tournament. The Dutch hasn't won a competitive trophy since the 1988 European Championship, when Koeman still played for the national team.

"Maybe it's too early to win," Koeman said. "Maybe we need to wait for the next Euro, maybe we'll get another chance to win something. But, I think that's perhaps a little bit too negative about the performances of this team, of these players, and the quality of these players."

The Netherlands trails Germany and Northern Ireland early in qualifying for the 2020 European Championship. "We will take this experience into next year when we hope to qualify for Euro 2020 and we hope to get a better result there," young Dutch midfielder Frenkie de Jong said.

Defender Virgil van Dijk said the squad needs to be praised for its campaign this season. "We've made a lot of progress," he said. "We have to be very proud of ourselves. Now disappointment is in our heads but we have to keep heads up. It's been a good season."

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