Cristiano Ronaldo, revelling in
the showman role that has become his natural domain, again
underlined his billing as the outstanding individual talent of
Euro 2012 on Thursday.
Ronaldo teased and tormented the dazed Czech Republic to
distraction before his second-half header sent Portugal into the
last four with a deserved 1-0 win over limited opponents.
The world's most expensive player met Joao Moutinho's cross
after 79 minutes to secure Portugal, who are in the semi-finals
of a European Championship for the third time in the last four
tournaments, a clash with holders Spain or France on Wednesday.
"I think we have showed quality and consistency," said
Portugal coach Paulo Bento.
"We had the capacity to react. We switched well from defence to
With Ronaldo again in irrepressible form after running the
Netherlands ragged and scoring twice in their final group stage
game, Portugal look set for a bold bid to emulate their run to
the 2004 final on home soil, before Greece spoiled the
Portuguese party with a shock victory.
"It doesn't matter who will be our opponents, be it France
or Spain," Bento added. "We will do the best to reach our goal."
It was surprising it took Bento's side so long to break down
the Czechs, who badly missed injured playmaker Tomas Rosicky and
failed to trouble Portugal keeper Rui Patricio throughout.
Ronaldo had twice hit the woodwork, once from a sublime
moment of skill late in the first half and again from a
long-range free-kick just after the break, but he was not denied
a third time when the impressive Moutinho swung over a cross
from the right and the forward headed firmly down and past Petr
The showman, winning his 94th cap for Portugal, celebrated
his thrd goal of the tournament by beating his chest, then
blowing kisses into a television camera as his team mates,
playing their role of support cast to aplomb, mobbed him.
"We had a lot of opportunities. The Czechs did not have any
- that's a great game," the Portugal captain told reporters.
"I think the chances [of reaching the final] are 50/50 and
we just have to believe in it."
With 35 goals for his country, the 27-year-old will no doubt
go on to surpass Eusebio (41), and then Pauleta (47) as
Portugal's top scorer. The debate over whether he, or Argentine
Lionel Messi, is the best of a generation will rage on.
The only blot on Portugal's victory came late in the first
half when striker Helder Postiga went down clutching his right
hamstring and had to be carried off the pitch on a stretcher.
The hard-working centre-forward must now be a major doubt
for the semi-final in Donetsk.
After frustrating Portugal in a cagey and disjointed first
half, the Czechs ran out of puff as Cech bailed out his tiring
defence with some smart saves before the inevitable goal came.
The match statistics indicated a barrage against shot-shy
opponents by Portugal who had 20 shots with five on target.
The Czechs reached the knockout stage as group winners,
despite a negative goal difference but could muster just two
goal attempts on Thursday, neither on target.
Coach Michal Bilek ambitiously tried to plug the huge class
gap left by Rosicky's absence by handing the creative role to
Vladimir Darida, a youngster with just two caps to his name and
a surprise inclusion in the Czech squad.
The move did not pay off, although no blame could be laid at
Darida's door as the Czechs found that energy without an end
product can only take you so far.
A philosophical Bilek said his side had met their match.
"After losing you are disappointed you cannot go through,
but the Portuguese were better," he said.
"It was a great success that we made the quarter-finals.
After a very disappointing first match against Russia [a 4-1
defeat], we managed to raise our heads high."
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