Warsaw: As Cristiano Ronaldo lined up for the Portuguese national anthem in Kharkiv tonight, he must have known that superstars who are labelled the `best player in the world` have defining games that shape their careers. And tonight`s fixture against the Netherlands was one of those nights.
Perhaps his best displays for the Seleccao briefly ran through his mind - the Euro 2004 semi-final against the very same opponents, his dazzling destruction of reigning world champions Spain in a 4-0 friendly win that shocked Europe in 2010.
Whatever the case, the Real Madrid star put in a performance tonight that silenced the critics and doom-mongers who have been on his back since the tournament started.
Much has been made of Portugal`s reliance on their No.7 and captain; many have said that he simply can`t reproduce his club form at international level. That`s a redundant question now - unless you want to compare his outstanding showings at the Bernabeu with his masterclass this evening.
Simply put, Ronaldo was at the heart of the Seleccao`s victory against the Netherlands: scoring twice, hitting the woodwork on two other occasions and laying on chance after chance for a Portugal side that put to bed concerns regarding their attacking potency.
Has he been this good before in a Portugal shirt? There is no doubt this is up there with his finest performances in red and green and may be the most decisive contribution he`s made when it really mattered.
Back in 2004, Ronaldo inspired his side to the European Championship final in Lisbon, but was unable to prevent the Seleccao losing to Greece - a defeat that is painfully etched into the memory of every Portuguese.
Fast forward to 2012, and the development in his game is clear to see. Ignore what the haters say - he is made for big games today.
The proof was in the pudding tonight, particularly in his first goal. Very good players (see Nani) get chances in big games - but it`s normally the world-class ones who take them.
Ronaldo`s decision to take an extra touch to make sure of his finish for his second strike spoke volumes of his composure and decision-making - traits with which he`s not always been associated.
Portugal stride on into the quarter-finals and the hype surrounding Ronaldo will, naturally, kick up another gear. You get the feeling this won`t phase the Madeira-born winger.
The sides remaining in the last eight should worry that he will no doubt look to top this performance in the next round.
First Published: Monday, June 18, 2012, 12:15