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Another disjointed performance by Netherlands saw the Oranje slump to their third straight loss of Euro 2012, this time at the hands of Portugal, whose impressive showing deservedly paved them a path to a quarter-final meeting against the Czech Republic on Thursday night. It was Cristiano Ronaldo who came up with the goods for the Portuguese after disappointing in the two previous fixtures, scoring twice after Rafael Van der Vaart had given Netherlands an early lead to help Portugal come second in Group B.
Needing a two-goal win at the very least to stand a chance of making the quarters, Bert van Marwijk started both Robin van Persie and Klaas Jan Huntelaar in attack, with Rafael Van der Vaart coming into the side in place of Ibrahim Afellay. Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben were again expected to be key players in the Dutch midfield, with tough-tackling enforcer Nigel de Jong edging out the experienced Mark van Bommel to start in a defensive midfield role. Ron Vlaar replaced Johnny Heitinga at the back to partner Joris Mathijsen, with Jetro Willems and Gregory Van der Wiel completing the backline shielding Maarten Stekelenburg's goal.
Portugal boss Paulo Bento made no changes to the side that scrambled a 3-2 win against Denmark, starting Helder Postiga on his own upfront, with Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani flanking the 29-year old Real Zaragoza striker. Joao Moutinho and Raul Meireles again were the duo leading the side forward from the centre of midfield, with Miguel Veloso picked to breakdown the potent Dutch attack in front of the backline. Pepe and Bruno Alves continued in tandem at the back, with Fabio Coentrao and Joao Pereira starting in fullback roles.
A certain urgency could be sensed in the Netherlands side from the word go, with the side keeping a majority of the possession and probing at the Portuguese goal.
That pressure payed rich dividends in the 11th minute, with Van der Vaart vindicating his selection with a goal that helped the Dutch forge ahead. It was a spectacular goal as well, the Tottenham man curling an perfectly controlled left-footed strike from outside the box into the left corner of the net after being teed up by a Robben pass.
They could very easily have seen that advantage cancelled out soon afterwards when a terrible backpass from Van der Wiel sent Postiga straight through on goal. The striker however dawdled on the ball far too long and was forced wide before seeing his weak, low shot parried around the post by Stekelenburg.
Ronaldo desperately needed a goal to shake off his bad patch in front of goal, and almost got one after drifting infield from the left, dragging his strike onto the upright and out.
Portugal were certainly in the ascendancy from then onwards, with Ronaldo seeing his header from a well-flighted Nani cross pushed away by Stekelenburg. The Real Madrid man however turned third time lucky two minutes before the half hour mark, latching onto a perfect reverse pass from Pereira before calmly slotting the ball past the Dutch custodian to draw Portugal level.
The Portuguese had a couple of half-chances to complete their first-half turnaround, but Nani dragged a left-footed effort narrowly wide and Ronaldo smacked a swerving effort from all of 35 yards out that Stekelenburg was able to punch away, allowing Netherlands to regroup at halftime and come out with a strategy to get the two goals required to stay alive in the competition.
Van Marwijk did tweak his formation a bit at the break, switching Robben to the left flank and pushing Van Persie to the right, which allowed Sneijder to occupy the hole behind Huntelaar.
Much of the action however was still taking place in the Dutch half, with Postiga denied a goal by the linesman's flag. The striker nodded a scuffed Ronaldo cross-shot into the net from close-range, but was a yard ahead of the last defender, and was rightly penalised.
Ronaldo continued to be involved in most of Portugal's forward play, and almost set up goals for both Coentrao and Nani on the break, with Stekelenburg doing brilliantly to keep out both attempts.
Frustrated by his teammates' profligacy, Ronaldo took matters into his own hands, and netted his second of the night to kill the Oranje's hopes of making the quarters. Again it came from a quick counter, as Nani on this occasion served it on a plate for Ronaldo with a perfectly weighted diagonal pass that cut the Dutch defence open, the latter taking a couple of touches to steady himself before lashing a finish past a hapless Stekelenburg into the net.
Ronaldo could have capped off his near-perfect performance with a hattrick but was denied by the base of the post for the second time in the game, the ball on this occasion cannoning off the keeper's left hand upright after Ronaldo cut in from the right and drilled an unstoppable attempt past Stekelenburg.
Van der Vaart was unlucky to see another scorching effort from long-range with his weaker right foot bounce back off the post, while Van Persie missed a straightforward chance he would buried nine times out of ten, exemplifying the frustrating day the Dutch side had in Kharkiv.
In the end there was only one deserving winner, with Ronaldo carrying Portugal on his shoulders to a quarterfinal meeting against Czech Republic.
Netherlands (4-4-2) - Stekelenburg, Van der Wiel, Mathijsen, Vlaar, Willems (Afellay 67'), De Jong, Sneijder, Robben, Van der Vaart, Huntelaar, Van Persie
Portugal (4-3-2-1) - Rui PatrÃcio, Alves, Pepe, CoentrÃ£o, Pereira, Veloso, Moutinho, Meireles (Custodio 72'), Nani (Rolando 87'), Ronaldo, Postiga (Oliveira 64')
Score: Netherlands 2-1 Portugal (Van der Vaart 11', Ronaldo 28', 74')
File Photograph Copyright: Luis Vieira
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