Ronaldo sends the Dutch on their way
Holland 1 Portugal 2:AFTER ALL the speculation about the tortured arithmetic that might decide this group, the sums were simple. Germany and Portugal advance.
Hope had arrived for the Netherlands in the shape of Rafael van der Vaart’s early goal, but Cristiano Ronaldo first equalised and then struck the winner in the second half to send his side into a quarter-final meeting with the Czech Republic.
Mark van Bommel may have appeared beside his manager at the press conference on the eve of the match, but the air of solidarity was not to be trusted. In the wake of the two losses by the Netherlands, radical action had not been wiped from the agenda.
Van Bommel was ditched and so lost the armband to van der Vaart, who had not started against Germany.
Klaas-Jan Huntelaar was accommodated at centre forward with Robin van Persie in a deeper attacking role.
Bert van Marwijk’s mind was on resilience as well as adventure, with Ron Vlaar coming into the middle of the back four, and John Heitinga demoted to the bench.
The side soon had a prize worth protecting. Arjen Robben came in from the right after 11 minutes and slipped a pass to van der Vaart, who bent a beautiful shot past Rui Patrício from just outside the area.
The stakes may have been high yet this had the air of an open game, with each side indifferent to defence or, on this evidence, simply not adept at resistance.
Chances were abundant during this period. Ronaldo levelled with authority after João Pereira’s pass put him clear of the centre backs in the 28th minute.
Despite the permutations that were feasible in this group, it was critical for the sides to think solely of this game. There was, after all, nothing else that they could influence.
The Netherlands needed the greater upgrade to form after coming to this match with two defeats in the group, yet it was almost a mystery that they should be level at the interval.
The pattern of play had scarcely altered with an hour gone. Regardless of determination in the ranks, the Dutch simply looked the weaker side.
Risks soon had to be embraced, with full back Jetro Willems withdrawn so Ibrahim Afellay could at least attempt to apply pressure.
Portugal, all the same, had too much technique not to command and they could afford a chance that Nani squandered. Shortly after, it was Ronaldo, however, who made his presence felt once again. Nani squared the ball to the Real Madrid attacker on the left and, with the full back keeling over, Ronaldo came inside to establish a 2-1 lead.
The Dutch have worth established over many years, but this occasion asked too much, even of them. Portugal, for their part, looked as if their tournament was just starting. All was in their favour, with van der Vaart’s attempt being blocked by the post in the 82nd minute of a night that Portugal can relish.
The Netherlands never gave up and were close to a leveller from Robin van Persie, whose shot went wide.
As if piqued, Ronaldo then hit the post. Recent issues had left the Dutch in circumstances they could not overcome and they will face quite an inquest in the coming days.
At the Metalist Stadium, Kharkiv
Holland – Afellay for Willems (67 mins).
Portugal – Oliveira for Postiga (64 mins); Custodio for Meireles (72); Rolando for Nani (87).
Holland – van der Vaart 11.
Portugal – Ronaldo 28, 74.
Holland – Willems, Robin van Persie.
Portugal – Pereira.
REFEREE Nicola Rizzoli (Italy)