Strutting Ronaldo a cut above the rest
Cristiano Ronaldo found time to change his hairstyle at halftime, going from a mini-Mohican in the first half to a swept-back look in the second, but either way the Portugal forward was a cut above anyone else on the pitch.
Mocked by Danish fans who played on his rivalry with Argentine World Player of the Year Lionel Messi in his last outing, the Real Madrid player replied with the outstanding individual performance of Euro 2012 so far on Sunday to send Portugal into the quarter-finals.
The strutting, preened winger scored both Portugal’s goals in their 2-1 win over the Netherlands and repeatedly tore down the left flank, creating havoc whenever he got the ball, performing his full range of shimmies and stepovers.
That familiar air of arrogance was also there as he celebrated his first goal by sucking his thumb, pointing at the camera and making an undeciphered comment and his second by sliding on his knees and thumping his chest.
It was all too much for the Dutch as he also created a hatful of chances for his team mates which they somehow failed to take with Nani the biggest culprit.
Ronaldo took a fearful battering when he faced the Netherlands in the infamous second round match at the 2006 World Cup, which ended with 16 yellow cards and four reds.
This time the Dutch could not get near enough to him to dole out similar treatment as they lost for the third time in a row to Portugal at a major tournament.
But it was far from a single-handed victory.
Portugal, who won few admirers as the South Africa World Cup two years ago as they turned three of their four games into snore-fests, had insisted from the start of the tournament that Ronaldo’s performances would be a reflection of the team.
In their opening 1-0 defeat against Germany, he had only a few touches of the ball as the supply-lines dried up.
In the 3-2 win over Denmark, he got plenty of it but failed to make the most of it, missing two gilt-edged chances and finding himself taunted by Danish supporters who chanted the name of his great rival Messi.
Against the Dutch, Portugal were adept at playing the ball quickly out of defence and giving Ronaldo the ball where he wanted it on the left flank.
Although the Dutch were forced to open up after halftime, it was still an impressive, attacking display from a team who have been transformed under coach Paulo Bento.
Having hit the post following one of his many runs, Ronaldo opened the scoring as he met Joao Pereira’s astute pass through the Dutch defence with a perfectly timed run and fired past Maarten Stekelenburg.
Among other moments, he set up an almost unmissable chance for Nani with another run down the left, which he contrived to fire at Stekelenburg, and then charged 60 metres down the field to set up another for Fabio Coentrao.
A sweeping move, started when Pepe won the ball on the edge of the area and quickly set up of counter-attack, ended with Ronaldo cutting inside his marker and blasting the winner.
Ronaldo, playing in his fifth successive major tournament after starting the run as a teenager at Euro 2004, decided against hitting back at his critics.
“Portugal have succeeded in our aim of qualifying, now we have to play against the Czechs and that is going to be hard but we’ll see what happens,” was all he could muster.
Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk put it more succinctly.
“After a lot of criticism, Ronaldo was decisive,” he said.
“It’s football, where things can change from one moment to the next. He did everything this evening.”