Ronaldo knocks out Czechs
Cristiano Ronaldo was the hero as his late header gave Portugal a 1-0 win over the Czech Republic.
Last Updated: 21/06/12 11:06pm
Cristiano Ronaldo was the hero as his late header gave Portugal a deserved 1-0 win over the Czech Republic and sent his side into the semi-finals of Euro 2012.
Portugal were the better side throughout but were made to work for the win by a stubborn Czech side content to play on the counter-attack.
After countless squandered opportunities, good work from Joao Moutinho eventually led to the breakthrough.
His curling cross in the 79th minute found the head of Ronaldo, whose run had eluded Theodor Gebre Selassie in the box, and the ball flew past Petr Cech.
It was unfortunate for the Czechs that Ronaldo would play such a central figure in their defeat as they appeared to have done a good job of stifling him in the early stages.
Gebre-Selassie kept a close eye on the Real Madrid man and had some joy performing a man-to-man marking role.
But the Portuguese forward did manage to engineer more space in the final third towards the end of the first-half and he showed great skill to wriggle free only to hit Cech's near post.
Ronaldo hit the woodwork again after the break from a drilled free-kick as he emerged as the key figure in the game.
By that point Hugo Almeida, a first-half substitute for the injured Helder Postiga, had seen a headed effort rightly ruled out for offside as Portugal cranked up the pressure.
The Czech threat was limited to occasional forays into the Portugal half, with Vaclav Pilar and Petr Jiracek an intermittent menace.
Paulo Bento's side were utterly dominant but their wastefulness was threatening to prove costly as Nani in particular was guilty of poor decision-making around the Czech goal.
But just as it looked like Michal Bilek's men might force the contest into extra time, Moutinho's curled cross found Portugal's main man in the box and his downward header bounced past Cech.
It was no more than Portugal deserved and no more than Ronaldo deserved on a night in which he took one step nearer to an unlikely European Championship success that would surely be the highlight of his remarkable career.
It had been a decent opening from Bilek's side as Jiracek drilled the ball in from 20 yards, but his effort was blocked by Real Madrid defender Pepe.
Bento, meanwhile, named an unchanged side having beaten Holland to qualify behind Germany out of the 'Group of Death' for the last eight.
Manchester United winger Nani and Madrid star Ronaldo, who would miss the semi-final if he picked up another caution, were the most lively for the Portuguese.
On 17 minutes, the Czech Republic, who overcame a 4-1 defeat in their opening game against Russia to win Group A, broke quickly down the right and Vladimir Darida whipped over a low cross through the six-yard box, which Galatasaray striker Milan Baros just failed to connect with.
Ronaldo was played into the Czech box, holding off Michal Kadlec, and drilled the ball goalwards with Chelsea goalkeeper Cech making a smart save.
However, English referee Howard Webb had blown for a foul by the Portugal forward, who could not believe the decision against him.
On 26 minutes, Nani went into the Yorkshireman's notebook after tripping David Limbersky.
The game was starting to open up as Czech full-back Gebre Selassie cut in from the right and crossed, with Pepe again alert to clear the danger.
At the other end, Ronaldo - who netted a brace against the Dutch - went close with an overhead kick at the far post.
The former Manchester United forward was then just off target again with an ambitious long-range free-kick.
Portugal were forced into a change six minutes before half-time when striker Postiga pulled up with what appeared to be a hamstring problem, and was replaced by 6ft 3in Besiktas frontman Almeida.
Nani claimed for a penalty after going down in the box under close attention from Limbersky, but the referee was unconvinced, with TV replays showing the United forward slipped rather than was pushed.
Portugal continued to press and Ronaldo was within inches of a spectacular opening goal when he collected a high ball into the box on his chest, swivelled around marker Kadlec and crashed the ball past Cech - only for it to strike the base of the near post.
There was another great chance for Portugal at the start of the second half, when Almeida headed over from 12 yards after being picked out by Raul Meireles' cross.
On 50 minutes, Ronaldo was denied by the woodwork again as this time his 30-yard free-kick clipped the outside of the far post with Cech beaten.
The Chelsea goalkeeper then had to parry away a 25-yard strike from Nani, and only an offside flag prevented Portugal taking a deserved lead on 57 minutes when Almeida glanced in the United winger's cross.
The Czechs produced a counter-attack when Vaclav Pilar charged down the left and into the penalty area, only to produce a poor final pass, which was hacked clear.
Portugal were soon back on the offensive as Moutinho's dipping 25-yard effort was tipped over.
Kadlec was then left in a heap after being clattered by Cech, who punched clear at the edge of the penalty area.
The Chelsea man's goal was leading a charmed life, as Nani's floated ball was deflected behind.
Ronaldo finally broke the deadlock on 79 minutes, when he sent a diving header past Cech from Moutinho's right-wing cross.
Portugal continued to pour forwards, with Cech beating away an angled 25-yard effort from full-back Joao Pereira.
Ronaldo went down under a challenge from Gebre Selassie and, although he appeared to be caught by the Czech defender, referee Webb again waved play on.Portugal saw out four minutes of stoppage time to secure their place in the semi-finals, where they will face either Spain or France.
|Czech Republic||Team Statistics||Portugal|
|0||1st Half Goals||0|
|0||Shots on Target||5|
|1||Shots off Target||12|
|43.7||1st Half Poss.||56.3|
|31.1||2nd Half Poss.||68.9|