Ciaran Bonass talks us through the round three Group B game from Kharkiv in Ukraine, which finished Portugal 2 Holland 1.
Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveiro remains one of the most divisive figures in football but the player we’ve all come to love and loathe in almost equal measure was at his indomitable best as he scored twice in a 2-1 win that sent Portugal through to a quarter-final clash with the Czech Republic and complete a truly miserable showing at Euro 2012 for Holland.
Despite their thoroughly underwhelming showing to date following successive losses to Denmark and Germany the Dutch still found themselves in a position where they could qualify with a two-goal victory alongside a German win over the Danes. Joachim Low’s charges duly obliged thanks to their own 2-1 victory in Lviv which made them the only side to see out the group phase with a 100% record but Holland had only briefly appeared capable of fulfilling their half of the bargain when Rafael Van Der Vaart gave a more attacking selection from Bert van Marwijck an 11th minute lead in sumptuous style.
Arjen Robben had typically cut in on his left foot from the right had side but laid off to Van der Vaart on the edge of the area, the Tottenham midfielder then took one touch to set himself before arcing a wonderful finish into the far corner and well beyond the reach of Rui Patricio in the Portuguese goal. That left the Dutch within touching distance of an almost absurd quarter-final spot but instead of stirring them on it only served to galvanise their opponents, and Ronaldo in particular, who ruined innumerable group forecasts, top scorer punts and player of the tournament hunches by almost single-handedly condemning the Dutch – third favourites from the outset to lift the trophy – to the earliest possible exit door.
The Real Madrid attacker hit the base of the post with a slightly scuffed effort just five minutes after Holland took the lead and forced a fine stop from Maarten Stekelenburg when he rose brilliantly to power a header at goal from Nani’s cross. It would soon prove immaterial though, the man of the moment was not to be denied as his intelligent run was picked out by Joao Pereira’s perceptive through ball and after two more clinical touches the scores were level and Portugal were beginning to turn the screw. The Portuguese skipper was by now absolutely irresistible, as he next hammered an effort Stekelenburg struggled to parry away despite being struck from a ludicrous distance then again rose effortlessly above the Dutch defence from a corner but narrowly put his header off target.
Holland fleetingly considered making a game of it in the opening exchanges of the second half but it appeared to be more a case of when rather than if another Portuguese goal would arrive and some of their other players even threatened to make an impact on the occasion after being teed up, inevitably, by their captain. Helder Postiga strayed offside before diverting Ronaldo’s curiously human miscue in before Fabio Coentrao and Nani – through an almost offensive miss from a chance that had been put on a proverbial plate for him – squandered further opportunities. It seemed to dawn on the 2008 FIFA World Player of the Year then that he would have to complete the job himself and he duly did just that in the 74th minute when, after being involved in the foundations of a quick breakaway, he sprinted at least 60 yards to collect Nani’s perfectly-judged crossfield pass, compose himself with two nerveless touches and sweep the ball home. Ronaldo was denied a richly-deserved hat-trick when he struck the post again from a left-footed drive but he had already made an indelible mark with the most impressive individual display of the tournament thus far.
The Czechs are next in his firing line with the winners set to face whoever progresses when Germany meet Greece, those outcomes are unpredictable as Euro 2012 takes on a precarious knockout format but it can be assured that each of those teams will be desperately hoping Ronaldo has burnt himself out with this virtuoso display, otherwise he may just prove unstoppable.