The microscope that has been on the Portugese footballing side has been in place for two reasons. One, arguably one of the best players in the world plays for them. Two, the squad doesn’t ever seem to win squat.
So when Portugal advanced to the knockout round of Euro 2012 on Sunday by defeating the Netherlands convincingly with an awesome showing of counterattacking and poise in a 2-1 win, the microscope only became fined tuned in its focus. Portugal could be a legitimate rabble rouser in a tournament that seems up for grabs and the best player in the tournament put on a show that only Cristiano Ronaldo could.
Ronaldo took as many shots as the entire Dutch side, but capitalized on two awesome goals that put to rest any thoughts of Holland resuscitating their knockout stage hopes, even with a phenomenal goal early on by Rafael Van Der Vaart. Ronaldo was fed beautifully be Joao Pereira from the midfield and the Real Madrid star did what we’ve expected him to do. Play with poise, move with finesse and trickery, and finish with authority. Ronaldo’s goal in the first half continued what was an offensive onslaught for the Portugese and seemed to kill any confidence the Dutch had prior to. Then the second goal happened.
Nani on the wing, Ronaldo receives on the left side of the box, puts Gregory Van Der Wiel on skates, then finishes like only a cocky s.o.b. would, inside post. Ronaldo knew it was a clincher, as his celebration was not only soaked in by himself, but by an entire country who knew that their team had given them a performance they knew they were capable of.
What was telling after the game, is the reaction of coach Paulo Bento afterwards, as he seemed hellbent on making sure that none of the praise went to Ronaldo and all of it went to his eleven on the pitch:
“The individual effort of players is not important, the issue of the effort players show for their clubs and country we have already talked about so much. We have discussed that enough. I’m proud of what we’ve done as a team and satisfied that we achieved our aim brilliantly. We have a certain kind of style, identity and ideas. The players put that into practice. Today we can talk about brilliance, it was the best game we have played here. We have been loyal to our spirit and that’s what we’re proud of.” - Portugal coach Paulo Bento
In my personal opinion, it was absolutely the right thing to do.
To be clear, it took quite a bit of volume for Ronaldo to capitalize in such grandiose fashion, and that means it also took some exquisite feeding by Nani, Pereira, Raul Meireles and others to make the offense flow as it did on Sunday. Portugal was in complete control, and defensively they squandered virtually every opportunity the Dutch had to string together some offensive chemistry. Yes, Van Der Vaart had two glistening shot opportunities, but both were outside the box and only one went in. If he scores both, then you can’t do anything but give him the proper respect in his finishing quality.
As it stands, Portugal now faces the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals, a team who looked shaky in its group and a side who will be considered underdogs in the matchup. Of course, maybe that’s a bad thing for Portugal, maybe they play better when no one thinks highly of them. Maybe Ronaldo was meant to shine brightest when everyone’s counted him out. Maybe we should act like the group stage never happened.
Maybe Portugal can just go out there and do what we know they’re all capable of doing.