Ronaldo puts Portugal into Euro 2012 semifinals

All too often, Cristiano Ronaldo stuns the world with his fine

footwork. On Thursday, the Portugal superstar used the

determination of a raging bull to make the difference.

Ronaldo used his head to score the lone goal against the Czech

Republic and send his team into the European Championship

semifinals with a 1-0 victory.

After Ronaldo twice hit the post, he finally ran past his marker

in the 79th minute with all the instincts of an all-out striker,

threw his body at the ball and headed a cross from Joao Moutinho

straight at the ground and up past the flailing hands of Czech

Republic goalkeeper Petr Cech.

”I remember in the last game I hit the post twice, too,” said

Ronaldo, who scored his third goal in the last two matches. ”But

the most important thing is I managed to score this time, we won

and are in the semifinals. Now it is big smiles and good

music.”

Portugal, which will play either Spain or France in the

semifinals in Donetsk, Ukraine, next Wednesday, is one game away

from reaching its second European Championship final in eight

years.

Ronaldo already provided some leadership and two goals to get

past the Netherlands in the decisive last group game, and his

encore was the lone goal on Thursday.

”It’s just that Ronaldo is better. He can play with his head,

with both feet,” Czech Republic coach Michal Bilek said. ”That

decided the match.”

Ronaldo’s strike finally punished the negative tactics of the

Czechs, who had parked most of their players in front of Cech for

much of the game. The Czechs did not have a single shot on goal,

and only two attempts during the whole match. The Euro 2004

runners-up had 20 attempts.

Still, for quite a while, the Czech tactics seemed to work, as

even luck seemed to go against the Portuguese. In first-half injury

time, Ronaldo deadened a cross from Raul Meireles on his chest,

turned and with two touches set up a right-foot shot that had Cech

beaten before it crashed against the near post. He threw up his

eyes skyward in despair, and for long the desperation would

continue.

In the 49th, Ronaldo clipped the post with a 25-meter free kick

as pressure immediately increased in a match where the Czechs

seemed to be looking for little else than a rare counterattack

ahead of a penalty shootout.

”In the second half, we lost our strength and determination and

they had one chance that decided the match,” Bilek said.

And when Ronaldo finally scored and was mobbed by his teammates,

he went over to the camera with a beaming smile for a victory kiss

to the rest of the world.

”We have suffered,” Portugal forward Nani said. ”But we

always wanted to win and that’s what we showed. We were superior,

then we scored and we really deserved this result.”

At the final whistle, Ronaldo dropped to his knees with clenched

fists, then rose as Miguel Veloso jumped into his arms in

celebration. Twice in a row now, he had dominated games for

Portugal like he had never done in four previous major tournaments.

And as a result, Portugal is still in the hunt for its first big

trophy.

The Czechs started without captain Tomas Rosicky, whose Achilles

tendon injury hadn’t yet recovered enough for him to start in the

country’s most important game since it lost in the Euro 2004

semifinals.

Instead, Bilek took the daring decision to throw in 21-year-old

Vladimir Darida into the high-tension match for his first

international start after he was a substitute in two warm-up

games.

Ronaldo wandered from left to right and back again looking for

space, and exemplified Portuguese frustration with the conservative

tactics of the Czechs.

To add to Portuguese worries, striker Helder Postiga had to be

stretchered off with an apparent right hamstring injury in the 40th

minute and was replaced by Hugo Almeida.

In the first minute of the second half, Meireles served Almeida

an ideal cross in the center, yet he inexplicably missed target

from 10 meters (yards) out, highlighting Portugal’s troubles with

finding an all-out striker. In the 58th, Almeida’s header was

disallowed for offside.

”We had a lot of chances,” Ronaldo said. ”We had a great

unity on the pitch and that is why we have reached our goal.”

Lineups:

Czech Republic: Petr Cech, Michal Kadlec, David Limbersky,

Theodor Gebre Selassie, Tomas Sivok, Vladimir Darida (Jan Rezek,

61), Tomas Hubschman (Tomas Pekhart, 86), Petr Jiracek, Vaclav

Pilar, Jaroslav Plasil, Milan Baros.

Portugal: Rui Patricio, Bruno Alves, Fabio Coentrao, Joao

Pereira, Pepe, Joao Moutinho, Raul Meireles (Rolando, 88), Nani

(Custodio, 84), Miguel Veloso, Helder Postiga (Hugo Almeida, 40),

Cristiano Ronaldo.