Goodnight, Oranje. The Dutch team arrived at this years European Championships with high hopes, having got to the World Cup final two years ago. This evening, however, they return home with only three consecutive defeats under their belt and a nation wondering how a team with so many talented individuals could have faltered so badly. In all honesty, the damage had been done prior to this evening. Defeat in their opening match at the hands of Denmark proved to be the point at which their chances of progressing in this years tournament were fatally holed and this evening merely sealed the opinion that had been forming over the previous two matches, that the 2012 edition of the Netherlands national football team was scarcely fit for purpose.
This evening in Kharkiv they were beaten by the odd goal in three by a resurgent Portugal, but the narrowness of the scoreline only partially told the story of their evening. The performance of Cristiano Ronaldo – who scored both Portuguese goals – was probably the finest individual performance of the tournament so far and may well prove to be difficult to top, whilst it was only an obdurate evenings work from goalkeeper Michael Stekelenberg which kept the score down to that odd goal. The Netherlands had started effectively, with a lovely goal from Rafael Van Der Vaart offering them the thinnest slither of hope that they could somehow squeeze through to the quarter-finals of the competition, but conceding this early goal served only to remind the Portuguese team of what they needed to go this evening, and they had tools to complete this task in spades.
Within mere of minutes of the Netherlands having taken the lead, an air of inevitability had descended on the Metalist Stadium, but few expected the Dutch to hold onto their lead. Portugal stepped up the pace and Ronaldo in particular developed an air of menace, stung the palms of the goalkeeper with a shot from distance which betrayed his growing confidence. After twenty-eight minutes, the goal that had been coming… came. Pereira’s pass inside from the right found Ronaldo picking up his speed. He picked the ball up and flicked it comfortably over the goalkeeper to bring Portugal level. From here on, it was Stekelenberg that stood between Portugal and their second goal until, with sixteen minutes to play, Moutinho found Nani, who passed the ball on to Ronaldo. He paused, a wait of little more than an eighth of a second, but it was still enough to say almost everything that needs to be said about his extravagant talent, before sliding the ball past the goalkeeper to give them the lead. There was time for Van Der Vaart, one of the few Dutch players to emerge from this summer jaunt with much credit, to hit the post with a long-range curling shot, but the game was long since up for the Netherlands.
Meanwhile in Lviv, Denmark were making the most of their admittedly resources and giving Germany more of a game than the group leaders may have been expecting. Germany had taken the lead with a goal from Lucas Podolski, but five minutes later some poor defending from Germany allowed Nicolas Bendtner to head across the six yard area for Krohn-Dehli to nod the ball over the line from close range. With this goal, the complexion of the group changed. For Denmark, the possibility of sneaking a second goal and a place in the quarter-finals became very real, and when Portugal scored their second against the Netherlands the possibility of Germany getting knocked out of the tournament became very real indeed. It proved, however, to be a false alarm that lasted for just a few minutes. With ten minutes left to play, Mesut Ozil’s low cross across the Danish penalty area narrowly evaded the onrushing Miroslav Klose, but Lars Bender was on hand at the far post to score his first international goal and give Germany the lead again. Germany and Portugal, then, are through to the quarter-finals of the tournament, while Denmark and the Netherlands go home.
Germany have shown little so far to dissuade those of the opinion that they could end their sixteen year run without a major trophy this summer. True enough, all three of their wins by a single, solitary goal and it could even be argued that they were even a little fortunate to take that much from their matches against Portugal and the Netherlands. This evening, however, they were strong and will play Greece in a quarter-final match which will doubtless inspire a million and one “hilarious” headlines about the current political situation in Europe. Coach Joachim Loew had already described playing the Greek team as being like “biting a rock”, and there can be little doubt that Greece’s win last night against a previously impressive Russia team will have filled them with the confidence that they can give any team in this tournament a game. Portugal, meanwhile, have been moving up through the gears over the last week after a slow start. This evening, they were in control of the game from not long after the Dutch took the lead, and the form of Cristiano Ronaldo, a player of such luxurious abilities that he is more than capable of winning a tournament on his own, is such that their quarter-final opponents, the Czech Republic, may well be wondering what exactly they can do to keep him under control. It would be no great surprise to see the two survivors of this years Group Of Death™ taking their place in the semi-finals of the competition as well. Bert Van Marwijks Netherlands team will return home with its tail between its legs, whilst Denmark can return with a sense of pride at three creditable performances from an enormously difficult group. It is Germany, Portugal and in particular Cristiano Ronaldo, though, that go marching through to the next round.
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