D-day for Ronaldo's Portugal in Euro 2012's 'Group of Death'

Story highlights

  • Final games in Euro 2012's "Group of Death" to be played in Ukraine on Sunday
  • Bottom team Netherlands face Portugal, needing to win by two goals to go through
  • Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal will reach quarterfinals with win, or maybe even a draw
  • Leaders Germany need just a point against Denmark, who can also progress to last eight

Cristiano Ronaldo has the weight of a nation on his shoulders at Euro 2012, but the world's most expensive footballer is struggling to make an impact for Portugal.

Mocked by opposing fans after uncharacteristic misses against Denmark, the man who seemingly scores at will for Real Madrid is under extreme pressure ahead of Sunday's final Group B clash with the Netherlands.

The Dutch need to win by two goals to have any chance of reaching the quarterfinals, while 2004 runners-up Portugal could go through with a draw if Denmark cannot beat leaders Germany.

Ronaldo scored 46 goals in 38 league games as Real wrested the Spanish title off Barcelona last season, but Denmark fans chanted the name of Lionel Messi -- his rival for the title of world's best player -- in Portugal's last-gasp 3-2 victory on Wednesday.

However, former Portugal goalkeeper Vitor Baia told CNN that Ronaldo does not deserve the criticism he has received for his performances so far.

"Cristiano is a fantastic player and is our captain and is doing very well," said Baia, who won 80 international caps and played at two European Championships and the 2002 World Cup.

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"He's working, he's helping the team. Okay we are always expecting Ronaldo can win the game alone, but sometimes it is not possible.

"Now he's playing for the team, that is very important. When he cannot make the difference, he helps the team. That's what a captain has to do in this situation."

Portugal's defensive approach under coach Paulo Bento has mystified football pundits and fans alike, especially given the glimpses of the team's undoubted attacking skills in the final 20 minutes of the 1-0 defeat by Germany.

Baia expects similar tactics in the match in Kharkiv.

"We will play on the counterattack because it's the way we played in the other two matches. It will be the same because Holland has to win this game," he said.

"We did not start so well against Germany with a defensive strategy -- we have so much quality in our players to play in that way. But in the second game, we played better -- not the way we like it.

"We played better until 2-2 and then we suffered a little bit, but at the end we scored a third goal and now we are in a fantastic position to go to the next round because this is a very tough group, it's the most difficult group in this European Cup."

It has been called the "Group of Death" -- and the Netherlands are fighting for their lives after two successive defeats.

The 2010 World Cup finalists suffered a shock 1-0 loss to Denmark, and then were dominated in the first half by Germany before losing 2-1 as star names such as Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben and Wes Sneijder failed to combine their undoubted talents.

Former international Boudewijn Zenden remains hopeful that the 1988 champions can continue their record of reaching the last eight in their last six appearances at the tournament.

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