Cristiano Ronaldo capped a dominant display with the match-winning goal as Portugal powered past Czech Republic in a well-deserved win that sent them into the semi-finals of Euro 2012.
Ronaldo, who scored twice against the Netherlands, hit the woodwork in each half with fine strikes. He finally found the net with 11 minutes remaining, thumping a header into the ground and beyond Petr Cech.
It was unfortunate for the Czechs that Ronaldo would play such a central figure in their defeat as they appeared to have done a good job of stifling him in the early stages.
Although Czech Republic failed to muster a shot on target as they rarely threatened throughout a tense evening.
Ahead of the game Czech Republic made one change from the team that beat Poland 1-0, with Valdmir Darida in for Daniel Kolar. Kolar had been playing the Thomas Rosicky role after the Arsenal midfielder picked up an Achilles injury. Portugal on the other hand had a fully fit squad and named an unchanged squad for the fourth consecutive game.
Portugal made a very slow start to the game with the Czech’s getting a string of corners but not quite picking out the right delivery. Any time Portugal did attack the Czech’s were quick to close them down, they had clearly done their homework.
Portugal did begin to wake up in the 12th minute when Nani moved to the left-hand side and combined with Contreao, pawing at the Czech defence until there was an opening. Some neat skill on the ball from Contreao briefly opened up some space, although his cross hit a man in red. Nani then set Moutinho up for a long-range shot that Petr Cech saved comfortably, that was the first thing either keeper had to do. Cech was again called upon in the 24th minute when Coentrao almost caught him out with a deflected cross from the left that looped towards goal but the Czech keeper backtracked to claim.
Suddenly Ronaldo sprung to life as he sprinted into the box to receive a pass from Moutinho and muscled Michal Kadlec off the ball. His shot was goalbound but palmed away although the ref, Howard Webb, deemed to challenge on Kadlec to be a foul so it wouldn’t have counted anyway. However the Czech’s looked just as dangerous when Theodor Gebre Selassie cut down the right and crossed low, but Pepe averted the danger.
Portugal raced back up the other end but Coentrao’s cross was deflected up and on to the top of the Czech’s goal. Ronaldo then produced an acrobatic overhead effort from a Pepe poked ball but it flew woefully wide of the goal.
No one was getting close at goal and even a Ronaldo free-kick from 30 yards flew low past the far post. The Selecção were forced to make a change on 39 minutes when Helder Postiga hit the turf clutching his thigh after starting a sprint. The striker was stretched off and replaced with Hugo Almedia.
Chances in the match were at a premium, unfortunately so were periods of prolonged possession from either side. Countless errors, misplaced passes and the like made the game not very pretty to watch.
Portugal stole all the limelight in the final minutes of the half first when Nani drooped to the turf in the penalty area leaving the Selecção screaming for a penalty, then Ronaldo had the best chance of the match. Pulling down Raul Meireles’ long ball in the box with his chest he then flicked the ball pass Michal Kadlec before it hit the turf to give him sight of goal. His shot from 10 yards beat Cech but smashed into the post.
HALF-TIME: CZECH REPUBLIC 0-0 PORTUGAL
After the tightest first half you’d ever see the first chance of the second came just 30 seconds after the break. Raul Meireles’ cross found Hugo Almeida totally unmarked 12 yards out, but he planted his header over the bar and behind. Portugal were on top two minutes later as Ronaldo had another long-range free-kick which was brought forward 10 yards after the original delivery was handled by a Czech defender. His second effort bet the wall and Cech only for the post to again deny him. Portugal had come out meaning business leaving the Czech’s with their hearts in their mouth.
The Czech’s were out in body but not in mind as they were struggling to have a constructive kick. Meireles launched another Portugal attack with a lofted pass to Ronaldo who scampered into the box and opted to shoot early though he sliced his effort and it flew wide of goal. Ronaldo then had another effort for Portugal, this time frim distance, but it deflected wide for a corner. The delivery was fired in by Meireles but over the bar.
Ronaldo was seeing more of the ball but then so were most Portugal players. It was Nani’s chance to have a shot next from 25 yards which Cech superbly palmed away. It wouldn’t be surprising to hear that Portugal had the ball in the back of the net on the 60th minute as Hugo Almeida dived low to head into the net from a Nani cross but the flag was raised and the goal rightly ruled out.
It had taken 17 minutes but the Czech’s finally had their first attack of the half and quite a decisive one it was. A superb run from Vaclav Pilar beat three men en route to the edge of the Portugal box on the left, however his final cross was poorly delivered, like so many before. The Czech’s responded by bringing on Jan Rezek for Vladimir Darida and the chance worked as they had a decent little spell but again it was their finishing that let them down.
Portugal retained the momentum as Moutinho rifled a shot from 20 yards only to be denied by a tip-over from Cech Ronaldo followed up with another chance as he skipped in front Kadlec at the near post and tried to flick a shot at goal which went just wide. Next Ronaldo turned provider for Portugal by controlling a ball back for Meireles who had a chance to test Cech but blazed his shot well over the target.
At this point of the game, with the match being so tight, a goal for either team would all but guarantee a win and Portugal looked the most likely to get it as they came close again. Meireles strode towards the Czech box and poked a ball through for Nani whose shot is looped up and over the bar by a well-placed Kadlec. That was followed by more wastefulness by Nanias he played a one-two to get in behind the Czech defence on the right but planted his low cross straight into the arms of Cech.
With all those mossed chances the Selecção could be forgiven for giving up hope but luckily they did finally find the bag of the net on 79 minutes. It had been coming all game and it was no real surprise who scored it. Moutinho swung over a great cross from the right which was too high for Almeida but not for RONALDO who muscled his way on to a header that planted into the ground and up into the net past Cech.
The ball was now firmly in Portugal’s court as they rushed forward again looking to end the game. Perira fired a shot on goal from just inside the area but Cech palmed away. Portugal’s solution was to bring Custodio on for Nani and Rolando on for Meireles as they attempted to defend their lead even if they couldn’t add to it. Although they didn’t really need to worry as the Czech’s had failed to muster up anything since the Portuguese goal. Portugal were playing very sensibly now denying their opponents possession and the Czech’s desperation was clear.
The final drama of the game came in the last minute of extra time when the Czech’s won a corner which Cech raced up to attack however the awful corner passed everyone leaving Portugal to break. With a clear goal to aim at Pereira raced towards goal but was superbly tackled by Liberski just as he was about to play Ronaldo through on goal. That was a great tackle to prevent an embarrassing goal as they final whistle sounded.
FULL-TIME: CZECH REPUBLIC 0-1 PORTUGAL
Portugal: Rui Patricio, Joao Pereira, Pepe, Bruno Alves, Fabio Coentrao, Meireles (Rolando 88’), Veloso, Joao Moutinho, Nani (Custodio 84’), Postiga (Almeida 39’), Ronaldo
Czech Republic: Cech, Gebre Selassie, Sivok, Kadlec, Limbersky, Hubschman (Pekhart 86’), Plasil, Jiracek, Darida (Rezek 61’), Pilar, Baros
Portugal will now face Spain or France for a place in the final, and with arguably Europe’s best player beginning to show his very best form, they could take some stopping.
Star Man: Joao Moutinho
Rui Patricio – 6
Not a save to make all match, Patrício’s most testing moments came when dealing with a series of back passes. He did so without problems and showed good distribution.
Joao Pereira – 7
Another excellent match from the new Valencia right-back. Save one instant in the second half when Pilar got past him, Pereira defended tenaciously and lent good support to Portugal’s attacking efforts, especially in the second half.
Pepe – 8
It is getting difficult to find words to describe Pepe’s contribution to Portugal in this tournament. Before a ball had been kicked in Ukraine and Poland Ronaldo caused a stir when he claimed Pepe was the world’s best centre-back. The Real Madrid man appears set on proving him right. A timely interception to snuff out one of the Czech Republic’s few moments of real danger in the 27th minute was typical of another commanding display.
Bruno Alves – 8
Another rock solid performance from the Zenit defender. Imperious in dealing with high balls in midfield and unflappable in his defensive duties. Also improved his distribution in comparison to the group games.
Fabio Coentrao – 8
Another defender who is enjoying a brilliant tournament. Was Portugal’s brightest spark as they struggled to get their game going in the first half. Made an indefatigable contribution all the way up and down the left flank for the whole ninety minutes.
Miguel Velsos – 7
Maintained the high standards he has set in the first three matches. With the Czechs committing few men to attack, Veloso ventured forward more than in previous matches, and nearly played in Ronaldo on a couple of occasions with excellent diagonal passes.
Raul Meireles – 7
Meireles’ best game at Euro 2012. Got through an immense workload, as per usual, and seemed dead on his feet at around the hour mark, only to find a second wind and finish the match strongly. Beautiful cross to Almeida straight after half time and clever low pass to Nani unlocked the massed Czech defence, but his team-mates did not take advantage.
Joao Moutinho – 9
Like Pepe, João Moutinho has been immense all tournament and today he turned in another magnificent display. Dynamism personified, the FC Porto player was unlucky not to open the scoring as only a fingertip save from Cech denied him in the 63rd minute. No matter, Moutinho would be the key to victory. His outstanding cross led to the game’s only goal.
Cristiano Ronaldo – 9
While not afforded the same amount of space as in the Netherlands match the Portugal captain was again a massive goal threat throughout the game. Made full use of his uncommon strength, skill and aerial threat. Hit the post twice, the first time after a wonderful touch and turn to bamboozle his marker, forced Cech into overtime and finally put Portugal fans out of their misery with an unerring headed finish. With Ronaldo on this form, Portugal can hurt any team.
Helder Postiga – 5
Injury brought a premature end to Postiga’s evening on the pitch. He had run about gamely as usual, but found it difficult to get into the match during a period when the whole Portugal team were lethargic.
Nani – 7
Nani’s least effective game at the tournament, perhaps affected by picking up a first-half yellow card. Even so, the trickery and passing of the Manchester United winger caused plenty of problems for the Czech defence. Forced Cech into a sprawling save on 57 minutes and had a goal-bound shot deflected just over the bar in the 74th minute.
Coincidence or not, Portugal improved significantly once Almeida replaced Postiga. The burly striker wears the air of a forward lacking in confidence, but his movement was good and if his aim was better the Besiktas player could have opened the scoring in the 46th and 64th minutes when he lost his marker but headed over. Did get the ball in the back of the net in between, but he had strayed offside.
Brought on to shore up the midfield once Portugal had taken the lead, in anticipation of a late Czech surge, he did exactly that extremely effectively. Custódio was on the pitch for less than 15 minutes but enough time to make a series of timely interceptions in the middle of the park and prevent danger reaching the Portuguese area.
Brought on to shut up shop. Not enough time to rate.