Cristiano Ronaldo capped an outstanding performance with two goals and Portugal defeated the Netherlands 2-1 on Sunday in Kharkov, Ukraine, to advance to the quarter-finals in the European Championship.
The Dutch found themselves in the bottom of Group B after defeats against Denmark and Germany and their qualification hopes were left in the hands of a very offensive lineup led by Rafael van der Vaart and Arjen Robben.
The Netherlands jumped on the field with an aggressive game plan, rushing Portugal from minute one and forcing them to play a counter-attack game.
The constant push from the beginning caught the Portuguese off guard and gave the edge to the Netherlands, which took advantage of a confused defensive line and quickly capitalized on it, keeping the hopes alive.
In minute 11, the speedy Robben cut the defence from the left side and found an open van der Vaart, who sent a beautiful left-footed shot from outside the area past Portugal goalkeeper Rui Patricio.
But the all-in and sometimes desperate system implemented by the Netherlands showed a few flaws, including an average defence incapable of keeping up with fast counter-attack moves from the sides.
Portugal took over the match halfway through the first half and, despite the Netherlands attempts to control the ball, showed superiority on the field.
After continuous threats and multiple shots on goal, the Portuguese squad broke their rival's defensive wall and scored the equalizer in the 28th minute.
And, who else but Cristiano Ronaldo?
The Real Madrid star sent the ball to the back of the net, finishing a spectacular play started by teammate Joao Pereira’s surgical pass through three defenders that left Ronaldo alone in front of keeper Marteen Stekelemburg.
Portugal’s control moved on to the second half, with a confident Ronaldo leading the way, creating plays from the sides and involving his teammates in attack. The captain bullied whoever had the will to try to stop him.
The inevitable happened in the 74th minute.
Portugal caught the Dutch defence asleep and Nani did not waste any time. The Portuguese winger sent the ball to red-hot Ronaldo, who easily got rid of the defence and beat Stekelemburg with a strong shot to his right post.
Panic was more visible than strategy on a Dutch team that never gave up, but showed nothing new in the second 45 minutes of the match.
Goalie Stekelemburg became the Netherlands best player during the second half, keeping his team in contention and avoiding Portugal to blow up the score.
What this result means
- Portugal advances second in Group B, behind Germany, which finished the group stage with a perfect record after defeating Denmark 2-1. Paulo Bento’s team will now face the Czech Republic (Group A winner) in the knockout stage, while Germany will square off against Greece.
The winning goal
- Having speedy players like Nani and Ronaldo in counter-attack is a lethal weapon and Portugal proved it. Ronaldo’s winning goal was the result of incredible offensive response and poor defence. The style the Netherlands brought to the field matched perfectly with the Portuguese forwards.
Man of the match
- Without Lionel Messi, the Euro Cup was set for Ronaldo to plead his case as the best player in the world, and with performances like this the controversial player will definitely add points in his favour in the never-ending debate.
The Portuguese perspective
- "Once again we showed how united we are as a team, it wasn't easy to start with a defeat. The secret was our defending, our humility." — Midfielder Miguel Veloso.
The Dutch perspective
- "We started quite well but we were playing against one of the better teams today. We lost three times. We were bad and we don't deserve to go through." — Captain Rafael van der Vaart.