Dutch done and dusted at Euro 2012

Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo (L) celebrates with teammates after scoring against the...

Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo (L) celebrates with teammates after scoring against the Netherlands. (AFP)

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 7:10 PM ET

KHARKIV, UKRAINE - When Germany plays the way it has the past 10 days, it can legitimately win Euro 2012.

When Cristiano Ronaldo plays the way he did Sunday evening, Portugal can legitimately win Euro 2012.

Such is the beauty and intrigue of what some consider to be the best tournament in the world, one which now knows two of its four quarterfinal pairings.

On Thurday, led by a suddenly resurgent Ronaldo, the Portuguese will take on the Czech Republic in Warsaw. It will be a rematch of the 1996 quarterfinal in which the Czechs came out on top by a 1-0 score.

On Friday in Gdansk, the Germans will look to run their perfect record in this tournament to 4-0 when they clash with the Cinderella Greeks in Gdansk. Germany is the only team at Euro 2012 that will come out of the group stage having won all three of its games.

In the end, both the Germans and Portuguese deserve full credit for reaching the final eight.

This was, after all, the so-called Group of Death.

The group that had everyone gasping during the official draw in Kiev late last year, when Germany, Portugal, the Netherlands and Denmark were lumped together. The group that other managers looked at and said: "Thank you-know-what we avoided that!"

Just look at the quality here.

The Germans won this tournament three previous times and came into this edition as heavy favourites, along with Spain.

The Dutch were the Euro champions of 1988 and were finalists at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

The Danes, seen as darkhorses by many observers heading into this tournament, captured the European title four years later in 1992.

And the Portuguese? They have, at their disposal, the most talented player in this competition in the form of the enigmatic Cristiano Ronaldo.

In beating all three of these difficult foes, the Germans sent a message to the rest of the field that, even when not firing on all cylinders, they are a force to be reckoned with.

Just ask the Danes, whose hopes of advancing into the knockout stage were crushed Sunday by a German team that defeated them 2-1 in Lviv thanks to goals by Lukas Podolski and Lars Bender. Podolski, 27, became the youngest player in Europe ever to receive 100 caps for his national team.

"We did the job and qualified with nine points -- a great performance, even if there's still room for improvement," German manager Joachim Loew said. "In midfield and defence, we maybe allowed too much space; we could have closed them down much earlier to avoid allowing Denmark to take the pace out of the game. Greece will be the same, so we need to tighten up.

"I've never played Greece and now it's time. No one thought they would make it as Russia had been so strong. I think they've had three or four chances at this tournament and scored three goals. They are masters of efficiency. They're hard and great at the back, strong in the tackle."

Meanwhile, here in Kharkiv, it was the Cristiano Ronaldo show. Finally.

Deservedly criticized in Portugal and abroad for not showing the same form for Portugal as he does for club team Real Madrid, Ronaldo finally woke up and was brilliant, scoring twice in a 2-1 victory over the Netherlands and coming a goal post away from competing the hat trick.

Far too often, Ronaldo has not answered the bell for Portugal.

Sunday night he rang it so loudly, they could hear him all the way in Amsterdam, much to the chagrin of the Dutch fans there who watched de Oranje finish a brutal 0-3.

Asked about his exploits, a robotic Ronaldo, perhaps gun shy at being ripped so much the past two weeks, refused to talk about himself.

"I just want to congratulate the team," he said.

Portuguese manager Paulo Bento echoed those sentiments, refusing to single out Ronaldo's efforts.

"We don't claim to be favourites (against the Czechs) and it won't be easy," he said. "We have to keep up our work and the quality that we have shown so far. Then maybe we can even reach the semifinals."

At least Germany and Portugal still have that opportunity.

For Denmark and Holland, the eulogies from the Group of Death have already been delivered.

mike.zeisberger@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/zeisberger


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