WARSAW: Some 16 years ago Portugal lost to the Czech Republic in the quarter-finals of the European Championship. That was at Villa Park, Birmingham, when Cristiano Ronaldo was 11 years old. Now he turned up with the 79th-minute header to claim revenge.
Portugal will now play France or Spain in the semi-final in the Donbass Arena in Donetsk next week.
The Real Madrid superstar had seen very little of the ball in the opening exchanges which saw the Czechs, winners as Czechoslovakia in 1976, bring the game to the Portuguese, runners-up as hosts in 2004.
Finally he burst into life for the first time in the 24th minute, exchanging passes with Joao Moutinho and accelerating clear, only for keeper Petr Cech. In fact, English referee Howard Webb had already awarded a free kick against Ronaldo for pushing a defender aside.
That first hint of Portuguese danger had sharpened up intent on both sides and they had both Nani and Miguel Veloso booked in quick succession. Now Ronaldo began to weigh in: an acrobatic bicycle kick flew narrowly wide of the one post and a long free kick rumbled wrong side of the other.
Portugal’s effort also produced the first injury with Helder Postiga pulling up in pain with a hamstring injury as he sought to accelerate forward; Hugo Almeida appeared as substitute.
This did not appear to upset the Portuguese rhythm. Ronaldo went even closer to an opening goal when he took a left-wing cross on his chest, swivelled and, all in one flowing movement, stabbed his shot against Cech’s left-hand post.
Ronaldo hit Cech’s left-hand post again just after half-time. A 40m free free was blocked by a hand in the wall; Ronaldo tried again from 30m and the ball flew beyond Cech, diving to his left, and clipped the outside of his left-hand post (again).
Ronaldo half-volleyed over the bar, Nani forced a diving stop from Cech and Almeida had a headed ‘goal’ disallowed for offside before Vaclav Pilar, for the Czechs, crossed the halfway line for about the first time in second half with almost an hour gone.
The goal had to come . . . and it did, in the 79th minute. Nani crossed from the right and, this time, Ronaldo was unbeatably on target with a flying header. His third goal made him the tournament’s joint top scorer.
Golden oldies Luis Figo and Eusebio hugged each other in delight in the VIP box.
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