There’s no stopping Cristiano Ronaldo. Well, at the moment.
For much of Thursday night against the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals of the European Championships, the suave Ronaldo cut a frustrated figure. He stared down a teammate when a pass had too much weight, looked up at the heavens when shooting wide and put up two fingers when he struck the woodwork for a second time – and for the second straight game.
But as he did against the Netherlands in last week’s finale in the Group of Death, Ronaldo ultimately had the final word, scoring the winner in the 79th minute following an accurate cross from midfielder Joao Moutinho. Portugal prevailed 1-0, and so Ronaldo’s misses against Denmark are fading from memory fast.
It was a textbook downward header that left busy Czech keeper Petr Cech with no chance. The luck finally deserted Cech, who was part of Chelsea’s improbable run to Champions League glory.
Earlier, Ronaldo effortlessly took down a pass, swiveled and beat Cech at the near side but not the post. Later, a stellar free kick struck the post again.
He was the man of the match, easily, and Portugal breathed a sigh of relief when he wasn’t booked. A yellow would have seen him ruled out of the semis.
No one could say Portugal didn’t deserve to advance.
After the plucky, well-organized Czechs held their own in the first 20 minutes, it was virtually one-way traffic. Nani joined Ronaldo in putting in another positive performance, and the Czechs had only one shot – not on target.
“I think we played very well,” Ronaldo told the BBC after the match. “We created many chances. We know it’s going to be difficult in the next game. We’re ready. The team is mature, and we’re ready for the fight.”
THIRD STRIKE: It was tough luck for Portugal striker Helder Postiga when he went off injured in the first half with what seemed to be a hamstring injury. He could be sidelined for a while, which means Portugal manager Paulo Bento won’t be able to field the same lineup for the seventh straight competitive game.
But there were sure to be at least a few Portugal fans not too displeased, given Postiga’s struggles – away from home – in front of the goal. His strike against Denmark was followed by two misses versus the Netherlands.
In came Besiktas’ Hugo Almeida, and Almeida didn’t provide relief. Set up wonderfully by a Raul Meireles cross on the left, his free header in the 46th minute went over the bar. In the 65th minute, another header failed to hit the target.
Can Portugal continue to win without an effective striker?
Speaking of strikers, Czech manager Michal Bilek showed too much faith in aging forward Milan Baros. The Czechs, effectively, were playing with 10 men.
GEBRE SELASSIE SHACKLED: His great runs have made Czech right back Theodor Gebre Selassie one of the breakout performers of the tournament. He’ll be one of those, you suspect, who will move to a bigger club this summer.
But against Portugal he was always destined to stay back, mindful of having to cope with Ronaldo or Nani (as they switched wings early). It looked at times that, in fact, he was man-marking Ronaldo.
Selassie’s giveaway in a bad spot – at the edge of the Czech box – eventually led to a spectacular-looking Ronaldo bicycle kick that went wide in the first half, and Ronaldo beat him on the game’s only goal.
Selassie’s one promising moment going forward came in the 28th minute. In behind left back Fabio Coentrao, Selassie’s teasing cross was impressively cut out by Pepe.
Yes, sometimes the oft-reviled Pepe deserves credit.
THE CZECH MESSI: Midfielder Vaclav Pilar is dubbed the “Czech Messi.” It’s a little surprising that Ronaldo didn’t try to hack him down.
But seriously, Pilar, who scored two goals this tournament, lacked the consistency in his play. Some of that must be down to the Czechs’ focus on reducing spaces. Indeed, Pilar and the other two-goal man, Petr Jiracek, were up against it when Portugal took over.
Pilar did have one brilliant passage in the 60th minute, beating both right back Joao Pereira and Pepe before his cross let him down.
Portugal keeper Rui Patricio barely touched the ball.
That won’t be the case in the semis, when Spain likely surfaces in an all Iberian clash.