After all the speculation about the tortured arithmetic that might decide this group, the sums were painless. Germany and Portugal advance. Holland never gave up and were close to a leveller from Robin Van Persie when his drive went wide towards the close. As if piqued, Cristiano Ronaldo then hit the post. Recent issues had left the Dutch in circumstances they could not overcome.

The much-criticised Ronaldo, who scored both of Portugal's goals, had a lot to do with that and his sudden revival following the long campaign with Real Madrid is stirring for the rest of the squad as they anticipate the quarter-final against the Czech Republic. "The individual effort of players is not important," said the manager, Paulo Bento. "I am proud of what we did as a team. We did that brilliantly in three games." He has a stolid tone, but it is always better when footballers provide the entertainment.

The Dutch, with no points, have made a spasmodic contribution. Losers are generally ignored, but that cannot be the case with Holland. After all, the contrast with the effort that took them to the World Cup final two years ago is severe. It has to be accepted that their campaign in South Africa took the side close to a peak and then left them to slither downwards. Even so, no one had anticipated that all three group matches would be lost.

It is Portugal who were on the rise in Kharkiv and they will be confident of coming through their quarter-final. A tournament such as this demands much of players who have already been depleted by campaigns, but Ronaldo, with his taste for drama, responded to the stage that a European Championship provides.

Holland's manager, Bert van Marwijk, was phlegmatic. "I knew it wasn't going to be easy to do what we did two years ago," he said with reference to the appearance in the World Cup final. Van Marwijk also observed that his contract runs until 2016. He might live to fight another day, but his players were second best here.

"Portugal has succeeded in its great aim," said Ronaldo, the man of the match. His side held particular advantages, considering the turbulence besetting Holland. Mark van Bommel may have appeared beside his manager at the press conference on the eve of the match, but the air of solidarity was not to be trusted. Van Bommel was ditched and so lost the armband to Rafael Van der Vaart, who had not made the starting line-up in the defeat to Germany. Other adjustments were more predictable still, with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar accommodated at centre-forward while Van Persie took up a deeper attacking role. The side soon had a prize worth protecting. Arjen Robben came in from the left after 11 minutes and slipped a pass to Van der Vaart, who bent a beautiful shot past Rui Patrício from just outside the area.

The stakes may have been high yet this had the air of an open game, with each side indifferent to defence or, on this evidence, simply not adept at resistance. The Dutch right-back, Gregory van der Wiel, prone to lapses here, then presented the ball to Helder Postiga, who slipped his attempt wide.

Chances were abundant in that period, however, and there was no cause to brood if some were misused. Ronaldo equalised with authority after João Pereira's service put him clear of the centre-backs in the 28th minute. That opportunity arose because the left-back, Jetro Willems, lost possession. "At 1-0 we were playing well," Van Marwijk observed. "An individual error got Portugal back in the game."

The free-spiritedness in that period was embodied almost entirely by Portugal and, seven minutes later, Ronaldo headed wide from a João Moutinho corner. It was Portugal who carried intent then. Bento might have reproached them at half-time, but he would also have pointed out that his side had impressed in several respects. The Dutch had the deeper cause to reproach themselves. With so much at stake, the lack of urgency was curious.

There may have been a possibility that the technique of the Portuguese was marginalising Holland but that interpretation made little sense when the Dutch have stood so high in the world rankings. Van Marwijk still had faith and the lack of immediate substitutions was a reminder that the score remained tied.

The pattern of play had scarcely altered with an hour gone. Regardless of determination in the ranks, Holland simply looked the weaker side. The shuffling of the pack by Van Marwijk for this game was justified, but that did not mean that their hand was necessarily stronger. A manager at a tournament has usually had years to deliberate over his lineup. For all the drama, it must be disturbing to learn that his plans have not worked as expected. Risks soon had to be embraced, with Willems withdrawn so that Ibrahim Afellay could at least attempt to apply pressure.

Portugal, all the same, had too much technique not to command and they could afford a chance that Nani squandered. Shortly after it was Ronaldo, however, who made his presence felt once again. Nani slipped the ball to the Real Madrid attacker on the left and, with the full-back keeling over, Ronaldo came inside to establish a 2-1 lead in the 74th minute.

The Dutch have worth established over many years, but this occasion asked too much even of them. Portugal, for their part, looked as if their tournament was just starting. All was in their favour on a night that Bento's side can relish.