Four of the biggest footballing nations in Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Portugal all played tonight in an absorbing night of sport at its best. The stage was set for one of the most dramatic nights of the tournament with all four teams able to qualify for the quarter-finals before kick-off. Neither match disappointed as football fans across Europe were taken through the ringer as the pendulum swung this way and that.
The Netherlands entered this final round of fixtures desperately needing a win to give themselves a chance of progressing to the knock-out stages while opponents Portugal knew a win would all but seal their place in the next round. The Dutch flew out of the blocks like Usain Bolt and Rafael van der Vaart gave them the early advantage with a magnificent curling strike from all of 25 yards. Portugal came close to an immediate response but Cristiano Ronaldo could only hit the base of the post when found in plenty of space. Portugal continued to threaten in an open game but Ronaldo was caught narrowly off-side and had a close-range header excellently saved by Oranje goalkeeper Stekelenburg.
Meanwhile in the other match Germany took the lead in the 19th minute through a cool finish from Lukas Podolski after Mario Gomez appeared to mis-hit his shot. However underdogs Denmark did not lie down and scored an equaliser thanks Michael Krohn-Delhi’s head following Niklas Bendtner’s nod back across goal. This meant that as it stood Denmark and Germany were taking the top two spaces. However Danish joy did not last long as Portugal equalised through much-maligned star-striker Ronaldo. He beat the off-side trap by a whisker to collect Joao Pereira's pass and calmly slot home.
The second half continued to be tight in both matches as no one wanted to press too hard for fear of conceding what would have been a killer goal. Ronaldo silenced his critics in style when he cut inside to fire low past Stekelenburg in the 74th minute crush Dutch hopes. The Real Madrid forward then nearly completed his hat-trick but saw his long-range left-footed drive come crashing back off the post. It did not matter though as the stuffing had long been knocked out of the Netherlands as they limped to an inadequate exit from a tournament they had been expected to feature prominently in.
Denmark continued to battle against the Germans in an attempt to find a winning goal that would have given them a chance of qualification. Unfortunately for the battling Scandinavians though Germany caught them on the counter-attack with just ten minutes left and Lars Bender fired home to seal top spot in the group and a quarter-final against Greece.
A brilliant night of football failed to let down the millions watching despite the high expectations. At the end of the day Denmark and Holland are on their way home, while Germany and Portugal march onwards to the Euro 2012 last eight.