Portugal beat the Netherlands 2-1 on Sunday to set up a Euro 2012 quarter-final with the Czech Republic and condemn their opponents to a first group-stage European Championships exit since 1980.
Needing to win by two clear goals to stand any hope of progressing, the Netherlands took an early lead through Rafael van der Vaart, but they were undone by goals in each half from man-of-the-match Cristiano Ronaldo.
“We have succeeded in our great aim, which was to qualify for the quarter-finals,” Ronaldo said. “Now we have to play against the Czech Republic, which is going to be hard, but we’ll do our best.”
From a Netherlands perspective, the final score was rendered immaterial as Denmark’s 2-1 loss to Germany in the other Group B match meant they would not have qualified for the last eight even if they had won.
Portugal, for whom Ronaldo belatedly reproduced his Real Madrid form at the tournament, will compete for a semi-final place against the Czech Republic in Warsaw on Thursday.
“It was the best game we have played so far, except for the first 12 minutes, but we’ve been loyal to our spirit and we’ve now shown that we’re capable of reacting against Denmark and the Netherlands. We won’t let up,” Portugal coach Paulo Bento said.
Runners-up at the World Cup two years ago and top scorers in qualifying, the Netherlands leave Ukraine with their tails between their legs after three consecutive defeats.
“I think we started quite well today and we scored after about 10 minutes, but you saw that when we concede a goal, the uncertainty remains. If we’d scored a second, we might have been more sure of ourselves, but we didn’t take our chances,” Netherlands coach Bert van Marwijk said.
Mindful of the pressing need for goals, Van Marwijk handed starts to both Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Van der Vaart, who replaced captain Mark van Bommel and inherited the captain’s armband from him.
Van der Vaart needed less than 11 minutes to vindicate his manager’s decision, collecting a pass from Arjen Robben and shaping a delightful long-range shot inside the left-hand post to put the Netherlands ahead.
However, if the Netherlands thought they were in for a comfortable evening, Portugal quickly had them on their toes with a flurry of chances sparked by Ronaldo drifting inside and brushing the post with a low strike.
Netherlands goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg was allowed to shine on his 50th appearance, thwarting Helder Postiga following an errant back-pass by Gregory van der Wiel and then showing sharp reflexes to palm away a Ronaldo header.
The Netherlands failed to heed the warnings, though, and in the 28th minute Ronaldo leveled, powering onto Joao Pereira’s incisive, stabbed pass and clipping the ball past Stekelenburg from close range.
Strangely, scoring the opening goal seemed to have inhibited the Netherlands and they were cowed even further by Ronaldo’s equalizer.
So often scorned for his international displays, Ronaldo was a man transformed and after working Stekelenburg with an audacious dipping shot from long-range, he crashed a header narrowly wide from a corner.
Van Marwijk gambled in the second half, throwing on winger Ibrahim Afellay for leftback Jetro Willems, but still Portugal came, Nani spurning a good chance by firing at Stekelenburg after Ronaldo had rolled the ball across goal.