By Stephen Gillett | Portugal Expert
As Cristiano Ronaldo lined up for the Portuguese national anthem in Kharkiv tonight, he must have known that superstars who are labelled the 'best player in the world' have defining games that shape their careers. And tonight's fixture against the Netherlands was one of those nights.
Perhaps his best displays for the Seleccao briefly ran through his mind - the Euro 2004 semi-final against the very same opponents, his dazzling destruction of reigning world champions Spain in a 4-0 friendly win that shocked Europe in 2010.
|28'||RONALDO!!!! Portugal level the match. Ronaldo is found by Pereira with an inch perfect through ball and he slots it perfectly into the corner.|
| WINNING GOAL
|74'||GOAL!!! It's all but over for the Netherlands now. On a superb counter, Ronaldo gets the ball with acres of space in the box, leaves Van der Wiel for dead and slots it home!|
| WOODWORK DENIES A HAT-TRICK
|90'||So close! Ronaldo nearly confirms the victory as he leads a rapid counterattack and bounces his long-range shot off the post!|
Much has been made of Portugal's reliance on their No.7 and captain; many have said that he simply can't reproduce his club form at international level. That's a redundant question now - unless you want to compare his outstanding showings at the Bernabeu with his masterclass this evening.
Simply put, Ronaldo was at the heart of the Seleccao's victory against the Netherlands: scoring twice, hitting the woodwork on two other occasions and laying on chance after chance for a Portugal side that put to bed concerns regarding their attacking potency.
Has he been this good before in a Portugal shirt? There is no doubt this is up there with his finest performances in red and green and may be the most decisive contribution he's made when it really mattered.
Back in 2004, Ronaldo inspired his side to the European Championship final in Lisbon, but was unable to prevent the Seleccao losing to Greece - a defeat that is painfully etched into the memory of every Portuguese.
Fast forward to 2012, and the development in his game is clear to see. Ignore what the haters say - he is made for big games today.
The proof was in the pudding tonight, particularly in his first goal. Very good players (see Nani) get chances in big games - but it's normally the world-class ones who take them.
Ronaldo's decision to take an extra touch to make sure of his finish for his second strike spoke volumes of his composure and decision-making - traits with which he's not always been associated.
Portugal stride on into the quarter-finals and the hype surrounding Ronaldo will, naturally, kick up another gear. You get the feeling this won't faze the Madeira-born winger.
The sides remaining in the last eight should worry that he will no doubt look to top this performance in the next round.