Ronaldo silences critics to dump out dismal Dutch
This has been a very Dutch failure, a team brought into disarray by the incompatibility of inflated egos.
So ironic, then, that their faint hopes of rescuing this desperate finals performance was put to an end by a player with arguably the biggest one of all.
Cristiano Ronaldo finally delivered a performance worthy of the strutting, shredding the hapless Dutch as he helped himself to two goals. It could have been a whole lot more.
Portugal knew they were going through when Ronaldo scored his second with 16 minutes to go. They should have been there by half-time as they destroyed an abject Holland team. Ronaldo alone hit the woodwork twice and his team-mates missed chance after chance. Bert van Marwijk's team were sent home by a collective Portuguese performance, led by their inspiring captain, that shamed the Dutch divas.
Yet with 11 minutes played the recalled Rafa van der Vaart curled in a superb goal to give the Dutch the lead. Arjen Robben had cut in from the right to the edge of the area and laid the ball off for the Spurs player to open his body and curve the ball around Rui Patricio.
Credit, too, must go to Van Persie who had gone sprinting around the outside of Robben, dragging the Portuguese defence a crucial couple of yards out of position.
Rather than give the Dutch confidence, the goal spectacularly enlivened the Portuguese. Robben gave the ball away cheaply and Paulo Bento's side worked it swiftly down the right, Helder Postiga playing it out to Ronaldo who knew he had the beating of Vlaar. Yet the Real Madrid winger's low shot hit the outside of the post.
The Dutch went from being in control to suddenly looking nervous and vulnerable. Gregory van der Wiel, under no real pressure, played what was effectively a through ball to Postiga but the striker could not convert the one-on-one. Moments later, Raul Meireles volleyed a chance into the side-netting while Ronaldo forced a messy save from Holland goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg.
The Dutch's feeble resistance did not take much longer to crumble, as Ronaldo finally got his first goal of the tournament after 28 minutes. This time it was Jetro Willems who gave the ball away with an errant pass.
The Portuguese moved the ball without real pressure being placed on them and Joao Peirera, the right-back, flicked a pass into the area with the outside of his boot, having spotted Ronaldo darting in behind Vlaar.
Both the timing of the run and the weight of the pass were perfect and Ronaldo steered the ball into the net. Cue a predictably posturing celebration. After their promising start, the Dutch had degenerated back into a shambles. Van Marwijk was impotently barking at his players from the technical area -- Robben even gave him a load back.
Ronaldo could have made their predicament worse: he had already terrified Stekelenburg with one of his dipping, swinging, long-rangers when he headed just wide of the near post.
The game did not take long to resume its pattern as some brilliant Portuguese build up play culminated in a chipped Nani pass to send Ronaldo through.
He chose to check rather than shoot and wasted the opportunity. The Dutch were getting desperate and that found expression in Willems' reckless challenge on Joao Moutinho. The 18-year-old could well have had worse than a booking.
Yet while Portugal failed to put the game away, the Dutch always had a hope of snatching a goal. Vlaar should have done so when picked out by Sneijder's cross, but mistimed his header. Portugal continued to press.
Postiga had a goal disallowed for offside and then Ronaldo carried the ball 60 yards before passing to Fabio Coentrao but his Real Madrid team-mate could not beat Stekelenburg.
It was getting ridiculous: Moutinho sent Ronaldo free down the left and the Portugal captain played a brilliant ball across the face of goal for Nani who shot straight at Stekelenburg with the goal gaping. Finally the Portuguese got the goal that finished off the Netherlands for good. It started on the edge of their own area, as they robbed Van der Vaart off the ball and switched the ball neatly up the field, moving at speed.
Nani had the time to roll the ball across the face of the area to Ronaldo who checked, left Van der Wiel on his backside, and shot low into the net.Ronaldo smashed the ball against the post again as Portugal finished the game as if they were toying with poor Holland. (© Daily Telegraph, London)