KRAKOW, Poland (AP) – Cristiano Ronaldo and the Netherlands have one thing in common at the European Championship: both are the target of ruthless derision.
One of them should silence their many critics on Sunday.
Ronaldo missed several clear chances against Denmark. And instead of the Real Madrid forward, it was substitute striker Silvestre Varela who scored the winning goal that maintained Portugal's realistic chances of advancing.
That same goal from Varela was just as lucky for the Netherlands, since it kept its slim chances of advancing intact, despite losing its opening two games. It also pits Portugal against the Dutch in a decisive match for the third time in eight years.
''Our opponent is wounded and will want to come back against us,'' Varela said.
Unfortunately, the clashes between the two have created many wounds, none bigger than the 2006 World Cup match. In a game of stunning violence, one of the dirtiest in World Cup history with four red cards, Portugal beat the Dutch 1-0. The Portuguese also beat the Dutch in the Euro 2004 semifinals.
Sunday's Group B match will eliminate at least one of them from the competition and perhaps both, depending on Denmark's result against Germany.
In all, the Netherlands have beaten Portugal only once in their past 10 meetings, in 1991, and on Sunday they need to do it by two goals to advance and need Germany to beat Denmark.
But even victory may not be enough for Portugal, while a loss in Kharkiv would not rule them out either. With three points, they have a safety cushion the Dutch lack.
Beyond the fate of nations and millions of fans, there is also a lot of personal honor at stake, especially for Ronaldo, who rivals Argentina's Lionel Messi as the most common picks as the world's best current player, but who has struggled at this tournament. The Portuguese captain's slump in form is hard to comprehend if not put in the context of his tendency to disappoint for the national team.
The man who scored 60 goals for Real Madrid last season has failed to do so in his last four matches with Portugal, but retains the faith of his teammates.
''He's got nothing to prove,'' Varela said.
Still, the Portuguese team lacks a prolific goalscorer in the center forward slot and a playmaker who can wrong-foot defenses primed to shut out Ronaldo and Nani.
Netherlands coach Bert van Marwijk has a plethora of attacking options, but so far Premier League top scorer Robin van Persie and understudy Klaas-Jan Huntelaar have found the net only once.
The criticism has been relentless, as befits a nation which was a World Cup finalist only two years ago. And on Sunday, Van Marwijk might well replace Van Persie with Huntelaar at center forward.
''We have lost twice,'' Van Marwijk said. ''So I am going to change some things.''
Associated Press writer Barry Hatton in Opalenica, Poland, contributed to this report.