KHARKIV, Ukraine, June 18 – Holland exited Euro 2012 in humiliating fashion going out at the first hurdle just two years after they reached the World Cup final, losing 2-1 to Portugal in their final Group B match.
Their misery was superstar Cristiano Ronaldo’s joy as he answered his critics in style by scoring both goals to see his side through to the last eight and had the time after the first one to mouth to the TV camera ‘This is for you my son’.
Germany, though, topped the group as they relied on a late Lars Bender goal – his first for his country – to beat the valiant Danes 2-1 and make it three wins from three games.
The Germans – finalists four years ago – will play a highly-charged quarter-final against 2004 champions and Group A runners-up Greece on Friday while the Portuguese play Group A winners Czech Republic in Thursday’s first quarter-final.
All had looked good for the Dutch when they took the lead through a sumptuous Rafael van der Vaart curler in the 11th minute but Ronaldo’s brace ended their interest in the tournament as they exited the tournament at this stage for the first time since 1980.
Fittingly for a side whose history is littered down the years with failure being accompanied by bitter infighting, van der Vaart and Arjen Robben preferred to stand and argue than chase back and try and regain possession when an attack broke down before Ronaldo’s second goal.
Robben, who has had a nightmare end of season where his club Bayern finished second in the Bundesliga, lost in the German Cup final and lost on penalties in the Champions League final in which he had a penalty saved in extra-time, said it was time to do some hard thinking on their failure.
“We must have the courage to look at ourselves in the mirror: we have all failed!” he said.
“It is difficult to find the answers. Sometimes life is like that.”
At least on that point van der Vaart was in agreement with Robben.
“It is very simple: we just weren’t good enough. We lost three times, that’s the end of it! What we showed here was really really awful.”
While Ronaldo’s return to scoring form should have been a reason to celebrate both the player and the coach refused to talk about it – Ronaldo simply talking about the Czech challenge and Bento preferring to talk about his team.
“What is important, is not the player, but the team,” said Bento, who received an early birthday present as he turns 43 on Wednesday.
“I am very proud of what this team has done, to have achieved our goal is wonderful.”
The Germans looked to be cruising when Lukas Podolski scored on his 100th appearance for his country, but the Danes, showing the determination and team spirit that the Dutch did not, fought back to level only for Bender to end their dreams in the 79th minute.
“We lacked the killer instinct in the first-half, which would have made it easier, and then Denmark scored,” admitted German coach Joachim Loew.
“We knew we could have gone out if we had gone behind, so nerves crept in.
“We showed maturity in the second-half, but we can still improve.”
His Danish counterpart Morten Olsen was left proud of his team, if frustrated that they had come up just short.
“We have to be disappointed, but I am not disappointed with the team,” said Denmark coach Morten Olsen.
“It was a fantastic performance and we have played against one of the world’s elite, but unfortunately we paid the price for our carelessness.”