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Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates a goal against Netherlands during their Group B Euro 2012 soccer match at Metalist stadium in Kharkiv, June 17, 2012.

YVES HERMAN/REUTERS

Never mind the warm welcome to Wayne Rooney as he finally enters Euro 2012.

World, say hello and well done to Cristiano Ronaldo, who is finally doing for Portugal what he has done so sublimely well for Sporting Lisbon, Manchester United and Real Madrid. Ronaldo dominated the thrilling end-to-end encounter with the Netherlands in a manner he never has playing for is country.

In the pantheon of great disappointments, Portugal looms large.

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Why? Search me. Search any follower of Portugal's national team, a group of players blessed with ability but cursed by inability achieve greatness. Ronaldo epitomized that radical reluctance to reach true greatness.

Over the years, since the storied period of Portugal's Luis Figo-led "golden generation" – which itself disappointed by reaching the final game of Euro 2004 before losing to Greece in Lisbon – Portugal's failure to impress at tournaments has been a given. The country seems to have ceaseless supply of talented young players but a crushing indifference to establishing itself as a world power in soccer.

Blame was often put on management. Previous coach Carlos Queiroz seemed unable to forge tactics that took best advantage of the talent. Current manager Paulo Bento has emphasized non-stop fluency of movement, much of it built around Ronaldo and, under his system, Ronaldo has gone from functioning as a Portugal player to flourishing.

All of Ronaldo's faults were on full display at the start of the game against the Netherlands – seven minutes into the match he wasted time complaining to an uncaring referee while Portugal had possession. A skeptic would have said another poor tournament for Ronaldo was unfolding, as usual and he'd be better remembered for his petulance than his goal-scoring performance. Again. And, somewhere, somebody started writing an analysis, speculating on why a genius who has scored an astonishing 112 goals in 101 league games in three years in Spain is always a dunce for his country. Such speculation is now redundant.

So much about this young man has been deeply annoying to so many soccer followers over the years. The ego and the pout. The play-acting and overreaction to the crunching tackles that a player of his speed and ability can only expect.

And who knows what inspired this elevated level of play for his country. Was it some taunt about his status as second-best club player in Europe, behind Barcelona's Lionel Messi? Was it Bento's 4-3-3 formation that allowed him a new margin of freedom to roam on the field? Against the Netherlands, was it simply the Dutch failure to have two defenders always marking him?

What matters for Portugal and this tournament is that Ronaldo seems galvanized by his task and truly engaged. With Portugal now facing a quarter-final matchup against the Czech Republic, a team lucky to have emerged from its group, another win and a semi-final place is its reward.

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If that scenario plays out, it will be the Netherlands that takes Portugal's place as giant disappointments. Two years after reaching the World Cup final, the Dutch disappear, ignominiously, from the Euro.

While it was Ronaldo's two goals that ended any chance of a Dutch emergence from the so-called Group of Death – and he could have had three – it would be unfair to categorize Portugal as a one-man team. Ronaldo utterly dominated but could not have done it without the solidity of Bruno Alves and Pepe in defence and a creative midfield trio of Miguel Veloso, Joao Moutinho and Raul Meireles.

So Rooney finally enters Euro 2012 for England and he is capable of having the impact the English media expects, but his former teammate at Manchester United has stolen the spotlight now and is unlikely to concede it. It's been a long time coming.

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