Portugal in semis; tops Czechs 1-0 on Ronaldo goal

After his powerful header lifted Portugal into the semifinals of

the European Championship, Cristiano Ronaldo looked ahead at the

possibilities, not behind at his achievement.

Ronaldo scored in the 79th minute for a 1-0 victory over the

Czech Republic on Thursday. The Portuguese dominated the action and

Ronaldo hit the post twice, then finally delivered. He headed a

cross by Joao Moutinho straight at the ground and up past the

flailing hands of Czech goalkeeper Petr Cech, who was spectacular

in defeat.

”Expectations are high,” the Real Madrid star said. ”We have

to keep our feet firmly on the ground and take one step at a time.

We have to win the next game. The goal is to get to the

final.”

This was Ronaldo’s third goal in two games and it rewarded the

Portuguese for the relentless pressure they applied all match.

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

Ronaldo said. ”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 will play Spain or France in the semifinals in Donetsk,

Ukraine, on Wednesday. It is one victory from its second European

Championship final in eight years; the Portuguese lost at home to

Greece in the 2004 title game.

Ronaldo already provided some leadership and two goals to get

past the Netherlands in group play, and his encore Thursday was

huge.

”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.”

His goal finally punished the 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 shot on goal, and only two attempts

during the match. The Euro 2004 runners-up had 20 attempts.

”The Czechs didn’t have a single chance,” Ronaldo said.

The strategy worked for a while. 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.

In the 49th, Ronaldo again clipped the post on a free kick from

25 yards.

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

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

By then, Ronaldo had hit the post four times in two games. When

he finally scored and was mobbed by teammates, he went over to the

TV camera with a beaming smile and offered a victory kiss.

”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. For the second match in a row, Ronaldo has dominated

for Portugal. And as a result, Portugal is still in the hunt for

its first major title.

”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.”

The Czechs started without captain Tomas Rosicky, who hadn’t

recovered from an Achilles tendon injury to start in the country’s

most important game since it lost in the Euro 2004 semifinals.