It was all or nothing for Holland, did they stick, in the form of keeping the same team that had done them so poorly in the last two games, or twist and go out all guns blazing. Well, in truth, they did neither. They twisted on the team selection including Huntelaar and Van Der Vaart, in place of the defensive Van Bommel and winger Afellay, but didn’t twist in terms of their performance, looking very nervous and cagey for long periods of the match. They started well but ultimately failed in their quest to dodge death and breathe another breath in the quarter finals.
The opening minutes showed a much more fluid Holland, keeping the ball better and moving in to space for each other. The first time this paid dividends was when Robben cut inside from the right, but instead of the customary shot with the left peg, he sneakily back heeled the ball back onto the wing, where right back Van Der Wiel swung in a lovely cross that just evaded Huntelaar in the centre, before Sneijder hammered the ball in to the side netting.
The first goal of the game came in the 11th minute, after a lovely spell of possession from the Dutch stand in skipper Van Der Vaart took a touch and curled the ball in to the bottom corner from the edge of the box, a sumptuous finish and just what the doctor ordered for the paralysed Dutch team. 1-0 Holland, game on.
Portugal’s first chance came in the 15th, when Ronaldo picked the ball up on the left wing he attacked the full back before cutting inside and hitting a low, scuffed shot that trickled past the goal keeper only to clip the outside of the post and bobble wide. Another chance followed soon after when Van Der Wiel played a great through ball for his opponents but Postiga could only tap the ball wide when one on one with the keeper. The next chance also fell to Portugal, in the 23rd minute Nani deftly controlled the ball before whipping a cross in to his former Manchester United team mate Ronaldo, whose powerful header was straight at Stekelenburg in the Dutch goal.
The 28th minute saw Ronaldo finally come to life, and do what we all know he is capable of. A lovely ball slid through and a run timed to perfection were followed by a placed shot low in to the keeper’s bottom corner, once again Holland were in trouble. Portugal 1-1 Holland. Portugal continued to prod and poke all the way to half time, without either team really creating too much of a clear cut chance.
The second half started off pretty much the same as the first, with Holland keeping hold of the ball well without penetrating the Portuguese defence. Ronaldo was still looking dangerous when he got the ball at his feet but Holland were making much more of an effort to ensure that happened as little as possible. There were a number of long range efforts from both teams but the first real talking point came in the 60th minute, when Ronaldo’s scuffed shot from the edge of the area fell kindly for Postiga to turn home, only for the linesman to rule the goal out for offside. Holland could feel the Reaper’s breath on the back of their necks, and they were struggling to create anything despite the numerous attacking players on the field. Ronaldo was once again able to open his legs when De Jong made a hefty challenge in the centre of the park, but the Dutch then lost the ball and Ronaldo was released, riding a couple of challenges down the left before sliding in Coentrao, whose shot was beaten away by Stekelenburg.
Ronaldo was creating again in the 72nd minute, when he was released down the left side again he reached the byline and rolled a ball across the box beautifully in to the path of Nani, whose shot from close range was well saved by Stekelenburg. Portugal could have done with that goal because if Denmark scored against Germany they would take second spot and Portugal would be out too. They didn’t have to wait long for that elusive goal that had been coming, the 74th minute to be precise. Nani rolled a beautiful ball across the line of the Dutch defence in to the path of that man Ronaldo, who turned on to his right boot an gave the keeper the eyes before passing the ball in to the net, this was more like the Ronaldo we are used to seeing. Portugal now sat second in the league behind Germany, and the Grim Reaper was now in the Dutch dressing room waiting for them to finish this lacklustre game, probably hiding behind the shower curtain waiting for the team to arrive.
The Dutch finally did muster a chance in the second half, and it came in the last ten minutes. After their best spell of possession, Huntelaar swept the ball out to the wing in Robben, who laid the ball off to Van Der Vaart. He cut back inside and smashed the ball with his right foot, but it quickly rebounded back off the post to sum up not only the Dutch night, but the Dutch campaign.
Portugal kept the ball well in the closing stages, and picked their times well to break and try and heap more misery on Holland. The last minute saw Ronaldo have a chance to complete his hat trick, but his well struck effort was denied by the woodwork.
So with the final whistle comes a little nugget of history that will entice our grandkids in years to come. Holland exit Euro 2012 without a point, and scoring only one more goal than the Irish, who still have a game to play. It just goes to show even one of the pre-tournament favourites can’t beat the group of death.
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