Cristiano Ronaldo finally ended the Czech Republic's stubborn resistance as he headed the only goal of the first UEFA EURO 2012 quarter-final to take Portugal into the last four.
It had promised to be a trying night for Portugal, who found the Czechs in resolute mood at the National Stadium Warsaw. Profoundly but not quite soundly defensive throughout, Michal Bílek's men rarely threatened, but looked as if they might prolong the encounter into at least extra time before Ronaldo headed in João Moutinho's fine cross with 11 minutes left, a third goal in two games for the captain and his second match-winning contribution in succession.
Bílek had sounded his intentions to rein in his side's attacking ambitions, all the while hoping to counter smartly. The plan very nearly came to fruition just after the quarter-hour when Vladimír Darida was sent scampering down the right. The delicious arcing cross the 21-year-old produced belied the fact this was his competitive debut; the lunging Milan Baroš came within a whisker of turning it goalwards.
The Czechs' preoccupation, however, was not to be caught out themselves. The main focus of their attention fell, unsurprisingly, on Ronaldo, who – when he burst forward for the first time – was chaperoned by five Czech players. The Portugal forward did escape his escorts in the closing minute of the first half, but after turning away from Michal Kadlec with a slickness matched only by his sleek new hairstyle, his shot came back off Petr Čech's left-hand post. Up in the stands, Eusébio and Luís Figo, wearing the Portugal No7 shirt Ronaldo inherited from him, must have glowed with approval.
Right Here, Right Now had boomed around the stadium before the teams re-emerged after the interval, and Portugal took their cue from Fatboy Slim. Raul Meireles immediately skipped down the left, providing a pinpoint cross which Hugo Almeida, on for the injured Hélder Postiga, should have used to at least test Čech, but he headed wastefully over. The Czech goalkeeper was equally unemployed soon after, although purely because a Ronaldo free-kick zipped beyond him and glanced off the outside of a post.
Fortune might have kept the scoreline level, but Čech had still not had to make a save of note. Nani changed that when he drove goalwards but found the goalkeeper more than equal to the task, as did Moutinho soon after when he powered a shot on target. Their intricate attempts to undo the Czechs thwarted, Paulo Bento's men had clearly decided more direct action was required.
A ball flighted to Ronaldo was exactly that, but Meireles's subsequent wild finish left everyone in a white shirt holding their heads. Nani, too, threw up his arms in despair when Kadlec's outstretched leg deflected a shot over. It was a gripping contest, now defined by the question of when – if – would the Czechs fold. They were eventually undone when Nani found Moutinho on the right, and his cross was met sweetly by Ronaldo. For the first time in the evening, joy broke across those familiar features. It was a winning smile, as Portugal saw out the last few minutes to set up a semi-final against Spain or France in Donetsk next Wednesday.
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