Cristiano Ronaldo once compared goal scoring to ketchup in a bottle. Sometimes, as much as you try, it won't come out. Then it pours out all at once. In Portugal's first two matches at the Euro, Ronaldo had accumulated no goals, only unrelenting criticism and taunting comparisons to Lionel Messi. The complaints were familiar: Ronaldo's individual skill, however impressive, could not transform a team. He came up small in the big competitions. He was petulant, self-absorbed, the incredible sulk.
But the ketchup analogy seemed apt on Sunday as he scored twice in the 2-1 win over the Netherlands, sending the Dutch home stunningly early and advancing the Portuguese to the quarterfinals against the Czech Republic. More goals might have gushed forth, but Ronaldo twice hit the post.
The Dutch fittingly wore black on a night that turned funereal. Two years after finishing second at the World Cup, the Dutch crumbled, scoring two goals in three games, fissuring internally and mustering a defence that was even more feeble than its attack.
The Dutch had no choice but to attack. So coach Bert van Marwijk did what many had been urging him to do: he started Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, the leading scorer in the Bundesliga, and left out defensive midfielder Mark van Bommel for the more creative Rafael van der Vaart. The plan was desperate, but seemed inspired in the 11th minute. Arjen Robben slashed inside from the right wing, creating space and passing softly to van der Vaart, who curled a wonderful shot inside the left post. It was a redemptive moment for Robben, who has had an awful month. If anyone could commiserate, it was Ronaldo. But perceptions about Ronaldo began to change in the 28th minute when he sprinted onto a pass from Joáo Pereira with impeccable timing and a clinical finish to equalise. Ronaldo was now emboldened, audacious. He had the predatory sense of a fighter whose opponent was weak and sagging on the ropes. In the second half, the Dutch became more frantic to score, and also became more vulnerable. In the 74th minute, Ronaldo struck again on a breakaway. He ran onto a diagonal pass from Nani, cut into the penalty area, corkscrewed defender Gregory van der Wiel into the turf, then calmly put the ball inside the left post.
Ronaldo slid on his knees and pounded his chest. At the final whistle, he sat on the ground and shook his fists. If he could still be childlike, it was now in exuberance instead of petulance.