Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates after scoring his second goal against Netherlands during their Group B Euro 2012 soccer match at the Metalist stadium in Kharkiv June 17, 2012. (Photo : REUTERS/Michael Buholzer)
With its victory over the Netherlands, Portugal booked its ticket to the Quarter Finals and a date with the Czech Republic.
The game capped a strong tournament thus far for the Portuguese and showcased the resurrection of its seemingly lost star player. For the Dutch, the game only emphasized the turmoil within the locker room and the otherwise embarrassing display in a tournament they were supposed to win. After all, this is virtually the same Dutch team that came within one shot of being World Cup Champions two years ago. Now they walk away from the Euro Cup 2012 without a single point.
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The Dutch started the game off brilliantly for the first 15 minutes. They needed a victory by two or more goals and looked like men on a mission to commence the contest. Portugal barely had any touches as wingers Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben exploited the Iberians on the flanks throughout creating multiple chances. The Dutch play was rewarded when Rafael Van Der Vaart blasted a long range shot from outside the box into the net to put the Dutch up ahead. It seemed like it would be a cakewalk for Netherlands.
However, a sleeping giant awoke moments later. Cristiano Ronaldo has long drawn the ire of soccer critics around the world for never employing his immense talent for his national team. He has shown time and again that he can score goals left and right for his club team FC Real Madrid of the Spanish league, but for his Portuguese, he has lacked the same level of finesse and confidence. In the previous match against Denmark, the Portuguese captain missed on two golden opportunities to extend his team's 2-1 lead. Since 2009, Ronaldo has scored 112 goals for Real in just 101 appearances. For the national team, the superstar has only put the ball in the net 32 times in 92 games. In the 2008 Euro, Ronaldo only finished with one goal in five games as Portugal was eliminated in the quarter finals of the tournament. He went scoreless in the qualifiers for the 2010 World Cup and scored only one goal, an inconsequential one, in a 7-0 blowout over North Korea.
In the match against Netherlands however, Ronaldo took center stage and ran rampant throughout the field. In perhaps his finest performance ever for the Portuguese side, Ronaldo was visible everywhere, generating opportunity after opportunity to give the weak Dutch defense headaches. He hit a post and later hit a header wide of the net. He finally broke through when Joao Perreira placed a thru ball right on the striker's foot and Ronaldo blasted it through Dutch Goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg to tie the game at one.
After that goal, which took place at the 28 mark, the Dutch, who play a strong possession game, could barely make clean passes up the field. The Portuguese stifled them time and again.
In the second half, the Dutch came out more aggressive looking for the two elusive goals it needed for its qualification to the next round. But 74 minutes in, Nani threw a perfect cross from the right wing over to Ronaldo on the left. Ronaldo cut into the box past the Dutch defender and blasted it past Stekelenburg to give Portugal the decisive goal.
The Dutch, dressed fittingly in black, tried to avoid their fate in the final moments with aggressive play. They had one Van Der Vaart shot hit the post, but would never even up the score.
According to ESPN.com, the Dutch have faced a great deal of infighting. Superstars Wesley Sneijder, Robbin Van Persie, and Arjen Robben have been in a not-so-friendly competition over which one of them is the face of the team. Coach Bert Van Marwijk, who probably saw his last match directing the team, has also stated that there are too many egos and wished there was a better atmosphere in the locker room. The turmoil was illustrated throughout the tournament as the team was unable to sustain its style of play throughout any of the matches, as its superstars attempted to take care of business on their own. This may have been the last time this star studded team plays together. However, Holland did have one bright spot in the tournament: Stekelenburg. Their goalie made numerous saves that would have made this 2-1 match more like a 6-1 match.
Portugal gets a favorable matchup with the Czech Republic, who won Group A. Germany won its match against Denmark, giving them three wins in three tries. They will play Greece in the quarter finals. Both Germany and Portugal are favorites in their respective matches and if they manage to win, will get an opportunity to renew their rivalry from Group play.