KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- Portugal’s European crown clattered to the ground in Seville as Belgium overcame Cristiano Ronaldo & Co 1-0 in their round of 16 tie at Euro 2020.
A goal just before halftime in southern Spain from Thorgan Hazard fired the world’s No1-ranked nation to a quarter-final duel with Italy in Munich.
Portugal, surprise winners of the continental crown in Paris five years ago, ratched up the tempo and pressure in an entertaining final halfhour but all to no eventual avail. They were beaten by a decisively better team.
Both outfits had shown each other enormous respect in a cagey opening. The only serious attempt at goal was 24th-minute free kick from Ronaldo which bypassed the defensive wall and drew a diving save from Thibaut Courtois.
The goalkeeper pushed the ball away to his right where Joao Palhinha managed only to head the ball high over the bar.
Courtois then played an eye-catching role in the end-to-end move which saw Belgium take the lead three minutes before half-time.
His body-swerve, with the ball at his feet, fooled Ronaldo and launched a sweeping move which was carried on by Romelu Lukaku, Kevin de Bruyne, captain Eden Hazard and Thomas Meunier who provided the assist for Thorgan Hazard to thunder a drive beyond a surprised Rui Patricio.
Belgium suffered a blow early in the second half when De Bruyne had to be substituted after failing to run off an ankle injury which earned Palhinha a first-half yellow card.
However the Red Devils redoubled their efforts and commitment to each other to withstand wave after wave of Portuguese attacks and create occasional danger of their own in the transitions.
Portugal coach Fernando Santos threw Bruno Fernandes, Joao Felix and then Andre Silva into the action as the second half ran on.
Felix quickly made his presence felt with a header which Courtois caught comfortably, falling to his left before Fernandes at one end and Lukaku at the other were both high with speculative efforts.
In the closing stages Ruben Dias had a bullet header beaten out by Courtois, Raphael Guerreiro struck a post and Felix headed just wide. But they could never find Ronaldo in space and so new champions will be crowned at Wembley on July 11.
Thorgan Hazard, Belgium midfielder: “In these kinds of games you have to grab your chances with both hands. And voila! The goalkeeper expected me to choose the other corner, so the ball went in. I am happy I could score for my country!”
Thomas Vermaelen, Belgium defender: “In the first half we were playing high and putting pressure on Portugal but, looking at that second half, we are lucky to win. Portugal made it really hard for us. We had to really stay focused.”
Thibaut Courtois, Belgium goalkeeper: “I didn’t have a lot of work to do in the previous three games but I knew that wasn’t going to be the case against Portugal. I am proud of my team-mates; they defended very well. Italy will be difficult too, but we have proved today that we are ready for it.”
João Palhinha, Portugal midfielder: “We created more chances than Belgium. In the first half, we managed to control the game well. I don’t remember any other opportunity for Belgium except the goal. It is with great unhappiness that we are going to back Portugal.”
Belgium: Courtois; Alderweireld, Vermaelen, Vertonghen; Meunier, Tielemans, Witsel, T. Hazard (Dendoncker 90); De Bruyne (Mertens 48), Lukaku, E. Hazard (Carrasco 87).
Portugal: Rui Patrício; Dalot, Rúben Dias, Pepe, Guerreiro; João Moutinho (João Félix 55), João Palhinha (Danilo 78), Renato Sanches (Sérgio Oliveira 78); Bernardo Silva (Bruno Fernandes 55), Ronaldo, Diogo Jota (André Silva 70).
Referee: Brych (Ger).