Ronaldo Roasts Hapless Dutch as Portugal Make Their Case at Euro 2012
Ronaldo put in a virtuoso masterclass in the Group B decider in Kharkiv, Ukraine, which Portugal won 2-1.
His two goals were expertly taken, and such was the scope of his movement and influence that he really could have scored six.
Ronaldo was everywhere. Head up, chest puffed, he commanded the game in precisely the manner he so often does for Real Madrid—for whom he scored 60 goals last season.
Ronaldo was unrecognisable from the man who misfired against Germany and Denmark—prompting a million words (some from me) bemoaning his failure to produce on the international stage.
Maybe the media ruffling of his feathers was exactly what he needed, because the peacock came out strutting on Sunday evening.
And, on his command, Portugal deservedly saw past the Netherlands to book a quarterfinal against the Czech Republic.
Most thought Paulo Bento's men would be dug a shallow grave in the "Group of Death," but Ronaldo's Portugal now find themselves favorites to reach the semifinals.
If their star turn produces three more performances to their level he did against the Dutch, it's not unthinkable that Portugal could win the whole thing.
Meanwhile, the Netherlands' hopes of repeating their Euro 88 success ended in the most depressing manner imaginable.
The much-fancied Dutch arrived looking to build on their runners-up finish at the 2010 World Cup, but will go home nursing the wounds of their worst ever major tournament showing.
Bert van Marwijk's star-studded collective never showed up. They deservedly lost all three games and will likely be competing with the Republic of Ireland for the title of "worst team at Euro 2012."
So, what went wrong?
This is a team that cruised to qualification—scoring goals for fun and boasting a squad with arguably the most potent array of attacking talent in the tournament.
At Euro 2012m they were found wanting at both ends of the field.
Defensively, the Dutch were far too giving. The Germans cut through them like hot butter, and Portugal were left ruing at least five clear-cut chances that went begging. Ronaldo, the world's second-most devastating forward, was given practically a free pass.
How far can Portugal go?
There was not much to cheer in attack, either. Arsenal's Robin van Persie eventually got his goal against the Germans, but missed a bucket load of chances against Denmark and was fairly anonymous against Portugal.
Arjen Robben was another who struggled to exert his influence. The Bayern Munich winger had plenty of possession, but all too often chose the wrong pass or overdid the dribbling.
Van Marwijk eventually gave Klaas-Jan Huntelaar his chance against Portugal, but his reshuffle served to deliver an even less cohesive Dutch performance than the two we'd seen before.
The inquiry into what will be deemed an abysmal failure will likely run all the way to World Cup 2014.
Van Marwikj will need to lean heavily on his team's achievements in South Africa two years ago to survive that long.
But while a public autopsy awaits the Dutch, the "Group of Death" has breathed life in Portugal's hopes of finally lifting a major trophy—eight years after the teenage Ronaldo and his team were denied by the Greeks at Euro 2004.
To do it, they need Ronaldo to deliver the kind of influence not seen at a tournament like this since Diego Maradona single-handedly won the 1986 World Cup for Argentina.
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