Ronaldo double downs hapless Holland

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Portugal has beaten Holland 2-1 in a Euro 2012 "Group of Death" cliffhanger, with two goals by Cristiano Ronaldo. Portugal now go through to the quarter-finals, where they'll meet the Czech Republic on Thursday. Holland, for the first time in three decades, failed to make it to the knock-out stages after three defeats in a row.

It was a tall order to begin with. In order to advance to the Euro 2012 knock-out phase quarter-finals, Holland needed to beat archrivals Portugal by at least two goals and hope that Germany defeated Denmark.

Portugal, however, also played to win, even though a draw would also have sufficed, provided Denmark didn’t beat Germany.

And so, Bert van Marwijk changed his starting line-up in every line of play: tall defender Ron Vlaar replaced John Heitinga, midfielder Rafael van der Vaart is captain instead of Mark van Bommel and Klaas Jan Huntelaar took up the centre-forward position with Robin van Persie sitting just behind him. Huntelaar replaced leftwinger Ibrahim Afellay. The rationale was evident: more firepower up front and more airpower and physical strength at the back.

For his part, Portugal manager Paulo Bento started with the same line-up in all three group-stage matches.

Early lead for Holland
A cool breeze blew into the Metalist Stadium in Kharkiv as Holland lauched its expected offensive, culminating in a Van der Vaart curler from outside the box that flew straight into the net after just 11 minutes. It was the early goal the Dutch so badly needed.

Portugal responded with a flurry of chances: Ronaldo hitting the post, Nani shooting just wide and Meirels testing the side netting - all in five minutes. Not much later came the news from Lviv that Denmark had equalised against Germany: 1-1.

Ronaldo magic
A similar scenario followed in Kharkiv, where Ronaldo tied proceedings with a well-aimed shot from close range in the 28th minute. This was the night the Real Madrid wizard had been waiting for. Freed from the ghosts that had prevented him from scoring for his country, Ronaldo unleashed a barrage of attempts on Maarten Stekelenburg's goal. But as yet to no avail.

Meanwhile, his teammates thoroughly enjoyed the amount of space left by the Dutch in midfield, crossing over in two or three moves to rip open the Oranje defence with intelligent, fast-paced passing. For Holland, the half-time whistle came at just the right time.

The Dutch started the second period with slightly more possession, but again, most of the danger came from Ronaldo, and from Helder Postiga, whose 59th minute goal was disallowed for off-side.

Another winger
"Hunt for the ball, hunt, hunt," the 10,000-strong Holland fans chanted from the stands. Holland manager Van Marwijk took the cue in the 66th minute. He fielded an extra attacker, Ibrahim Afellay, for young Jetro Willems, who'd been yellow-carded ten minutes before.

Portugal were not impressed. After tricking the Dutch centre-backs, Cristiano Ronaldo fired low in the left corner to give the selecção a well-deserved lead. Holland now needed three goals to revive their hopes of advancing to the second round - an impossible task given their shaky defence, powerless forwards and wide-open midfield. Still, they tried and a wonderful curled Sneijder shot hit the post eight minutes from time. Portugal, however, remained a constant threat, right until the end, but no more goals were scored.

Holland manager Bert van Marwijk blamed a marking mistake by Van der Wiel for the first Portugal goal, which he said sealed Holland's fate. His team, he addes, had been "out of form during the entire Euros". 

Van Marwijk's future
Dutch sports journalists believe that, following Holland's poorest-ever performance at a major tournament, Van Marwijk might succumb to pressure for him to stand down. Dutch FA Director Bert van Oostveen said after the Portugal match that he had seen "no sign that Van Marwijk wanted to quit." Events over the past few weeks "would be evaluated soon," he added, "before the summer holidays". It was only late last year that Van Marwijk renewed his contract with the Dutch Football Association until after UEFA Euro 2016, to be held in France.

Meanwhile in Lviv, Germany had retaken the lead with a Bender goal in the 80th minute. And so, the first two quarter finals were decided:

1. Portugal are to play the Czech Republic in Warsaw on Thursday 21 June;
2. Germany are playing Greece in Gdansk on Friday 22 June.


Portugal starting line-up:

12-Rui Patricio, 2-Bruno Alves, 3-Pepe, 4-Miguel Veloso, 5-Fabio Coentrao, 7-Cristiano Ronaldo, 8-Joao Moutinho, 16-Raul Meireles, 17-Nani, 21-Joao Pereira, 23-Helder Postiga

Holland starting line-up:

1-Maarten Stekelenburg, 2-Gregory van der Wiel, 4-Joris Mathijsen, 13-Ron Vlaar, 15-Jetro Willems, 7-Rafael van der Vaart, 8-Nigel de Jong, 10-Wesley Sneijder, 9-Klaas Jan Huntelaar, 16-Robin van Persie, 11-Arjen Robben