Portugal holds back Netherlands
Portugal moved on to the Euro quarterfinals with its 2-1 win over the Dutch
Christiano Ronaldo scored both the equalizer and the winner for Portugal
The Netherlands fell short of advancing, needing a win to reach the quarters
|Final :: Kharkiv, Ukraine|
Van Der Vaart 11'
KHARKIV, Ukraine (AP) -- Cristiano Ronaldo's smile and swagger were back, and so was his scoring touch.
The Real Madrid forward finally found the form he was lacking at the European Championship, scoring twice in a sparkling performance Sunday to give Portugal a 2-1 win over the Netherlands and a spot in the quarterfinals.
Poised to be written off as one of the tournament's flops, Ronaldo put a miserable two-game goalless run at Euro 2012 behind him.
"Now everything is possible," said Ronaldo, who went a long way toward silencing the critics who accused him of failing to reproduce the form he showed in a sensational 60-goal club season.
Ronaldo failed to shine in Portugal's 1-0 loss to Germany and 3-2 win over Denmark, but he was devastating against the Dutch. He produced an equalizer with his first goal of the tournament in the 28th minute and scored the winner in the 74th. He had a half dozen other attempts at goal, including a low drive that clipped the post in the 16th, and he set up two clear chances for teammates.
"Ronaldo got so much criticism in the last game and he is back now," Netherlands coach Bert van Marwijk said. "That is how fast things can change."
On Sunday, Ronaldo upstaged Schalke's Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Arsenal's Robin van Persie, the leading scorers in the Bundesliga and Premier League. Neither was able to find the net at the Metalist Stadium, although midfielder Rafael van der Vaart gave the Dutch an early lead.
After that, Ronaldo stole the show.
As Portugal cranked up the pressure, Ronaldo probed the Dutch back line and tied it off of Joao Pereira's pass. It was the kind of chance he took so often at Real Madrid last season but wasted in Portugal's opening matches.
For his second, Ronaldo received a pass from former Manchester United teammate Nani, coolly wrong-footed his marker and tapped the ball past the goalkeeper.
"This was our best game so far," Portugal coach Paulo Bento said, declining to single out Ronaldo. "What is most important is that we kept fighting after we lost our opening game."
After his goals, and at the final whistle, Ronaldo beckoned his teammates to celebrate, and they mobbed him. He pulled on a shirt with "Junior" printed on it, and explained later it was for his son's second birthday.
Up next for Ronaldo and his teammates is a quarterfinal match against the Czech Republic on Thursday in Warsaw.
"We really deserved to qualify for the quarterfinals," Ronaldo said.
Euro 2012 was expected to provide a showcase for Ronaldo, but his explosive Real Madrid form had deserted him. And when he's not on form, Portugal often looks tame and ordinary.
Opposition fans mocked him whenever he put a foot wrong or failed to pull off one of his ball tricks. He was taunted with chants of "Messi" - his Barcelona and Argentina rival. And against Germany and Denmark, Ronaldo was often short-tempered with his team when he didn't get the ball supply he's used to at Real Madrid.
But against the Netherlands, he was the consummate captain.
Needing a win to have a chance at staying in the tournament, the disappointing Dutch fielded an impressive attacking lineup that needed to score at least two goals. It produced one.
"We started quite well but we were playing against one of the better teams today," Van der Vaart said. "We lost three times. We were bad and we don't deserve to go through."
Copyright 2012 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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