Ronaldo steers Portugal into last eight
Tue, 19 June 2012
Powerful Germany ease through with perfect record — KHARKIV — Cristiano Ronaldo at his thrilling best scored twice for Portugal as they reached the last eight with a 2-1 win over the Netherlands on Sunday, eliminating the Dutch who ended a miserable Euro 2012 campaign without a point. Man of the match Ronaldo delivered the tournament's best individual display so far with goals in each half, after Rafael van der Vaart had raised Dutch hopes with a wonderful strike in the 11th minute, as they finished runners-up to Germany.
The Germans beat Denmark 2-1 in the other Group 'B' game to finish with nine points ahead of Portugal on six, Denmark with three and the Dutch who had nothing to show for their efforts. Portugal will now face the Czech Republic on Thursday in Warsaw while the Dutch will go home to lick their wounds. There was no complaint about the outcome from a Netherlands team that two years ago were World Cup runners-up but this time around deserved their place among the tournament's 'also-rans'.
"I am responsible and therefore failed in this tournament but at this moment I am not thinking about my future," said Netherlands coach Bert van Marwijk as the inquest began. Like the Dutch, Ronaldo had come in for criticism but the winger's classy touches, electrifying pace and composed finishing proving to be the difference between the two teams. For the Netherlands, their first exit from a tournament in the group stage since winning the European title in 1988 was all they deserved after three straight defeats.
"They showed this over the whole course. We proved that you can lose the first game and still qualify," he added. Finishing second in the toughest group is testament to the impressive progress of Bento's team who significantly have been unchanged throughout the tournament. The Dutch, in contrast, made three changes as Van Marwijk again searched in vain for the right formula. His side had to deliver a two-goal victory to have a chance of squeezing into the last eight and Bundesliga top scorer Klaas-Jan Huntelaar got his first start of the tournament.
Van Marwijk's plans looked to have been justified by a confident opening 10 minutes, with smart possession play laying the foundations for Van der Vaart's glorious opener. Arjen Robben cut in from the right and slipped the ball to the midfielder who superbly curled a left-foot shot inside the postbeyond the reach of Rui Patricio for an 11th minute lead. Yet the goal marked the high tide mark for the men in orange.
The Dutch tried to get back in front after the interval but it was Portugal who got the reward for their positive approach. Ronaldo created chances for Fabio Coentrao and Nani but in the 74th minute he decided the outcome in impressive fashion. Deep in his own half, the winger swung the ball out wide to Nani on the right who raced goalwards before looking up and finding Ronaldo in the area where he steadied himself before firing past Maarten Stekelenburg.
Luck was also against the Dutch when Van der Vaart hit the post with from 25 metres but the sight of Robin van Persie and Huntelaar shooting wide in the final minutes was more symbolic. Ronaldo was determined to complete his riposte to hasty critics with a hat-trick and nearly got his wish when in the final minute when he sprinted down the right, screaming for the ball, collected and struck the post with a left-foot shot.
A third goal would have been just reward for an outstanding display but cruel on the thousands of travelling Dutch fans who kindly applauded their team at the conclusion. Whether many back home believe they deserved that generosity is likely to be fiercely debated in the days and weeks to come.
GERMANS ON TOP
Bender, replacing the suspended Jerome Boateng in his first international start, benefited from poor Danish defending to run on to a pass from Mesut Ozil and calmly slot home from close range in the 80th minute. "It is something special for me," Bender said. "It's a wonderful present to come in top in this group.” Lukas Podolski scored his 44th international goal in his 100th match in the 19th minute, smacking the ball into the net after a cross hit the boot of team-mate Mario Gomez fell perfectly into his path some 10 metres out.
Michael Krohn-Dehli levelled for Denmark inthe 24th minute with his second goal of the tournament, nodding in unmarked after German defender Mats Hummels failed to cut out a header into the danger zone from Nicklas Bendtner. The Danes, who needed to win to go through, could have taken the lead in the 51st minute but Jakob Poulsen shaved the post from 10 metres after great set-up play from Bendtner, who was one of Denmark's best players in the tournament.
Denmark did little else to threaten the German goal and could easily have lost more heavily had Podolski, Thomas Mueller and in particular Sami Khedira converted presentable first-half chances. Man-of-the-match Podolski, 27, became the youngest European player to win 100 caps for his country. — Reuters
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