Cristiano Ronaldo proved to be the difference against Czech Republic as Portugal won through in their Euro 2012 quarter-final at the National Stadium.
After defeating the Netherlands in their final match of the group stages, Portugal claimed the runners-up position in Group B, to set up tonight’s quarter-final clash in Warsaw with Group A’s surprise winners Czech Republic. Both teams found themselves in the knockout round despite having lost their opening match of the tournament.
The Czechs made just the one change to the line-up that began their final Group A match on Saturday, as Tomas Rosicky was again ruled out with his Achilles injury. Instead of Daniel Kolar in central attacking midfield role, Coach Michal Bilek went with Vladimir Darida.
Portugal’s Coach Paulo Bento, meanwhile, had the luxury of naming an unchanged first XI for the fourth successive match in the tournament, with Cristiano Ronaldo supported in attack by Luis Nani and Helder Postiga. Ronaldo was one of eight players across the two starting line-ups who knew that if they picked up a yellow card, they would be automatically suspended for the potential semi-final.
After an understandably cautious start to proceedings, Portugal threatened in open play to unlock their opponents’ defence, whilst the Czech Republic probed at Portugal’s back-line with a succession of corners, but ultimately neither method of attack came to anything.
The Czechs soon created a clearer chance in open play, as Portugal pushed forward at the other end. On the break, Darida’s run down the right and low cross almost found Milan Baros’ burst, but he was centimetres away as the ball skimmed across the six-yard box.
After a weaving run down the left, Fabio Coentrao almost saw his cross midway through the first half deflect in, but Petr Cech was alert to catch the looping effort a yard away from his line.
Ronaldo thought he had the clearest opportunity of the game yet when Joao Moutinho played him through on goal to unleash a shot that Cech did well to save, but the Real Madrid man was ruled offside.
Pepe was called into action in front of his own goal and did well to clear a low cross from Theodor Gebre Selassie, after the Czech right-back’s one-two and burst down the flank had opened up the initial danger.
Ronaldo almost opened the scoring in audacious style, when he attempted an overhead kick from 10 yards out as the Czechs struggled to clear the ball from a corner and it deflected in his direction. The forward’s effort travelled a couple of yards wide of Cech’s left-hand post.
Then, from 35 yards out, Ronaldo swerved a free-kick low and outwardly past Cech’s other post, to briefly concern the Chelsea ‘keeper.
A few minutes before half-time, Postiga pulled up in the middle of the pitch holding the back of his right leg with a suspected muscle tear, so was replaced by Hugo Almeida for the Besiktas man’s first appearance of the competition.
Nani had an appeal for a penalty turned down, after a clash with left-back David Limbersky when running into the box for a pass. Replays suggested the Manchester United man slipped.
Portugal finished the half in the ascendancy and were unlucky not to go in front when Ronaldo chested down a long ball from Raul Meireles to turn and shoot, only for his effort to bounce away off the post.
Bento’s side began the second half immediately as they finished the first, as Meireles did well down the left to provide an inviting cross for Almeida, only for the substitute to head the ball over the bar from only five yards.
Ronaldo then went close with a 30-yard free-kick from a central area. Swerving to Cech’s left, the ball clipped the outside of the post before going out.
A few minutes later, the Real Madrid man almost ran through to a long ball, but took his shot too early and saw it cannon wide.
Nani then tested Cech from distanced with a low rifled effort, but Cech was equal to the effort to parry it away. Soon after, Almeida had a headed effort from a Nani cross correctly ruled out for offside.
Vaclav Pilar’s first real action came at the hour mark, as a burst and run down the left flank saw him beat two Portuguese markers, only for his cross in the area to fail to beat a third defender, who managed to clear.
Moutinho was the next at the other end to try out Cech from distance, with a higher, moving effort that forced the ‘keeper to knock it over for a corner.
Cech was then forced to take out his own teammate Michal Kadlec in coming out to punch a tempting cross that Ronaldo was threatening to capitalise on.
A clever move by Portugal saw Meireles clip the ball into the area for an on-rushing Nani to reach, only for the winger’s shot to loop over the far post after a deflection.
With 11 minutes to go, the deadlock was broken, when Ronaldo sneaked in unmarked at the far post to head a Moutinho cross down into the ground, with the bounce taking it high above Cech into the net.
Joao Pereira tested Cech soon after, bursting through a crowded midfield to latch on to a loose ball, but his effort was knocked wide.
Goalscorer Ronaldo then had a late penalty appeal turned down, with replays suggesting that Selassie did catch his ankle in the box.
Czech Republic pushed forward in stoppage time and even Cech went forward for a corner kick, but ultimately it was to no avail, as soon after Howard Webb blew the final whistle.
Czech Rep 0-1 Portugal
Scorers: Ronaldo 79 (P)
Czech Republic: Cech; Selassie, Kadlec, Sivok, Limbersky; Hubschman (Pekhart 86), Plasil, Jiracek, Darida (Rezek 61), Pilar; Baros
Portugal: Patricio; Pereira, Alves, Pepe, Coentrao; Veloso, Moutinho, Meireles (Rolando 88); Nani (Custodio 84), Ronaldo, Postiga (Almeida 40)
Ref: Webb (England)