Euro 2012: Ronaldo double sends Dutch packing home

Kharkiv: A Cristiano Ronaldo-inspired Portugal beat the Netherlands 2-1 at the Metalist Stadium in Kharkiv to send the Oranje out of Euro 2012 and set-up a quarter-final meeting with the Czech Republic.

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Rafael van der Vaart broke the deadlock early on with a sumptuous curling strike from distance to put Bert van Marwijk`s team into the lead. Portugal, however, improved after the opener and despite squandering a barrage of opportunities, Ronaldo would equalise in the 28th minute after a fine assist from Joao Pereira.

Ronaldo silenced his doubters in possibly his best ever game for the Seleccao With chances at both ends in a competitive second half, the Dutch would come unstuck by the speed of Portugal`s counter-attacks, with Ronaldo sealing his double 16 minutes from time to send their opponents crashing to a humiliating exit.

The Dutch, needing to win by at least two clear goals, began the match on the front foot, with Wesley Sneijder firing over the side-netting after a good delivery from Gregory Van der Wiel. Their breakthrough would be an early one.

Arjen Robben retained possession on the wing, cutting in before feeding Van der Vaart. The Tottenham midfielder, from distance, produced a moment of star quality, curling the ball past a beaten Rui Patricio to hand Van Marwijk`s men an 11th minute lead.

The setback did much to reinvigorate a Portugal side who had offered very little in the opening stages. Ronaldo raced down the left wing and turned inside Ron Vlaar before smashing a low shot off the post.

The Seleccao would again falter in the final third. An error from Van der Wiel allowed Helder Postiga to escape the attentions of the Netherlands defence, but the striker could not beat Maarten Stekelenburg.

The Portuguese pressure had become unrelenting and eventually their equaliser arrived. A poor pass from Jetro Willems relinquished possession to Joao Pereira who, in turn, threaded a delightful through ball towards Ronaldo. The Real Madrid forward subsequently slipped the ball under the goalkeeper to restore parity after 28 minutes and move above Luis Figo in the all-time goals scored list for his country.

After silencing his critics, Ronaldo felt confident enough to attempt the audacious, with a dipping shot from 40 yards forcing Stekelenburg to punch away hurriedly. Later, the 27-year-old headed inches wide from a Joao Moutinho corner to conclude a masterful first half at the Metalist Stadium with the teams locked into a 1-1 draw.

Portugal, however, would be denied by the offside flag after an angled shot from Ronaldo was blocked into the path of Postiga, who turned it in before the referee cut celebrations short.

Van Marwijk altered his side by bringing on Ibrahim Afellay in favour of de Jong, but to no avail. Ronaldo breezed past his marker on the left-wing to set-up Nani, who inexplicably fired straight at Stekelenburg from point blank range.

Another counter would finally come to fruition, as Nani atoned for his miss by setting up Ronaldo with a weighted through ball. The winger turned his marker and fired into the back of the net to seal a quarter-final place.

Van der Vaart would later hit the post from distance and Van Persie wasted a glaring chance before Ronaldo spurned one of his own for a hat-trick, hitting the post as the Netherlands ultimately suffered an untimely elimination from the European Championship.

Germany`s win against Denmark means that Portugal finish second in Group B and face the Czech Republic in the first quarter-final in Warsaw on Thursday. The Netherlands head home having lost all three group games.

Mohammed Ali/

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