Ronaldo helps Group of Death claim the Netherlands | Soccer | CBC Sports

Euro CupRonaldo helps Group of Death claim the Netherlands

Posted: Sunday, June 17, 2012 | 10:03 PM

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Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo clenches his fists at the end of the Euro 2012 soccer championship Group B match between Portugal and the Netherlands in Kharkiv, Ukraine on Sunday. (Armando Franca/Associated Press) Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo clenches his fists at the end of the Euro 2012 soccer championship Group B match between Portugal and the Netherlands in Kharkiv, Ukraine on Sunday. (Armando Franca/Associated Press)

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As it always is with the Group of Death, one of the tall trees of world football gets cut down. And on a day when all the teams in Group B were equipped with an axe - that they could either behead another or get their own lopped off - it was ultimately the Netherlands who lay down theirs and one embattled Portuguese player who came out swinging.
As it always is with the Group of Death, one of the tall trees of world football gets cut down. And on a day when all the teams in Group B were equipped with an axe - that they could either behead another or get their own lopped off - it was ultimately the Netherlands who lay down theirs and one embattled Portuguese player who came out swinging.

As we've come to see in recent years, two years is an eternity in international football. The Dutch team who faced Portugal on Tuesday not only looked like a shadow of its former self, but one that is now faced with the reality that its roots, the same that carried them to a World Cup in 2010, will likely be ripped out and replanted.

Their backline looked flat and unwilling to adapt to a Portugal attack that picked it apart with ease. Time and time again, Portuguese wingers were allowed to run reckless over the Dutch defense and there was little their head coach, Bert van Marwijk, was willing or able to do about it. As a man who still has a couple years left on his contract and one that just delivered the Dutch their worst performance at a major tournament (they've never gone 0-3 in group stage play before) it's likely that he will be the first to be removed.

But just as the Dutch seemed, such a short time ago, an immovable object, it was Cristiano Ronaldo who played the role of the unstoppable force on this day.

The thing about Ronaldo, is that when it comes to the press, he can't win. If he shows passion on the field, they call it hysterics. And when he doesn't choose to over-celebrate with his teammates, they call him a sulking child.

He's been the topic of another media firestorm this past week when he responded to a petulant reporter's questions about Lionel Messi with an equally petulant answer. Players, it would seem, who are slumping (he hadn't scored in four games) are expected to be humble. Not respond with the same condescending tone with which the question was delivered.

So you can expect, after scoring the tying goal and winning goals against Netherlands and then turning to the camera and swearing something in defiance on both occasions, he will once again be cast as that talented brat.

In reality though, what he was on this day was everything he is expected to be - one of the world's best players, Portugal's captain, leading their team out of one of the most difficult groups in recent memory.

Moments before he would score that winning goal, he slid a pass across the mouth of goal to an onrushing Nani. It was a sublime ball that he slipped past two or three Dutch defenders. All Nani needed to do was to lay down a bet, instead of hedge and he would have collected the winners spoils but his hesitation on the finish cost him and had his teammate, Ronaldo, looking to the sky for answers.  

But, instead of playing into that role as a poor leader that so many have cast him, Ronaldo returned up the pitch looking ever more determined. His aggressive play in the middle of the park caused a turnover and would allow Nani to return the favour by delivering a fantastic service of his own and ensuring the captain calmly completed the comeback.

With the win, Portugal finished second in the group. Germany's win over upstart Denmark assures that they advance to play Greece, while Portugal finds itself in an interesting quarterfinal match-up against the Czech Republic.  

In 1996, the last time Portugal met the Czech's in the knockout stage of the Euro's, they were eliminated by what is remembered as one of the great Euro goals of all time. Karel Poborsky would chip the Portugeuse keeper Vitor Baia from 20-yards-out and send the Cinderella squad on to the semifinals, before eventually losing to Germany on a golden goal in the final.

And after losing 4-1 to Russia in their opening game of Euro 2012 and going on to win their group in spectacular fashion, the Czechs are once again wearing that fleeting crown.

Ronaldo and Portugal have now shown they are capable of slaying giants, they will now be tasked with showing they can do away with overachievers.

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