Dominating Portugal secure spot in semifinals

Ronaldo celebrates after scoring the winner.

A header from Cristiano Ronaldo was enough to give Portugal a place in the semifinals after they beat Czech Republic 1-0 Thursday. The Portuguese were well worth their win on their second-half performance alone where they dominated the Czechs opening a slew of chances.

The decisive goal came after 79 minutes of sustained dominance when Ronaldo snuck in behind Theodor Gebre Selassie to head in Joao Moutinho’s cross and book themselves a place in the semis.

Czech captain Tomas Rosicky failed to recover enough from an inflamed Achilles heel to take his place in the team, handing the captaincy to goalkeeper Petr Cech.

Even so, his replacement against Poland in the Czechs’ final group match, Daniel Kolar, lost his place to 21-year-old Viktoria Plzen midfielder Vladimir Darida in the only change.

Darida only made his debut for Michal Bilek’s side in a pre-tournament friendly against Israel but did enough in a 30-minute cameo to convince the coach to take him to Poland.

Portugal coach Paulo Bento had said Wednesday he would not be changing his team’s system and he opted against a change in personnel, naming the same 11 that started against the Netherlands.

The highlight reel after the game will probably show a first half of good chances and majestic touches by Ronaldo but in truth it was a frustrating, often drab, opening 45 minutes.

A lot of time, probably the first 30 minutes, was spent with each team trying to feel out the other. As expected, the wings were where the action was.

Czech Republic’s Gebre Selassie came into the game as a player to watch thanks to his buccaneering performances in the Group Stage. The most interesting aspect of the game was seeing which player – Gebre Selassie or Ronaldo – would do the grunt work, which player would be more prepared to track back and mark the other, taking away both teams’ most dangerous threats. In the end Gebre Selassie was the one to blink, allowing Ronaldo to score a header from under his nose.

As it was, both were left free to run forward. Ronaldo spent most of the time down the center of the pitch while Gebre Selassie was the Czechs’ most obvious outlet. But in the first 30 minutes, all there was to show for the two teams were a couple of hopeful crosses, some nice passes and some horribly frustrating passes.

Fortunately on the half-hour mark, Ronaldo woke up. Moving more central, Ronaldo had the three best chances of the first half. The first after 32 minutes saw the Portugal captain go close with an audacious bicycle kick from a Pepe chip over the Czech defensive line. The shot went harmlessly wide from close range but it was a warning. Two minutes later Ronaldo saw a characteristic fizzing free kick whistle past the post.

The best chance of the first half came right at the end of it when Ronaldo brilliantly took down a long ball on his chest, beat his defender on the turn and rattled the post from eight years out with Cech stranded.

Portugal took their form into the second half, going close through Hugo Almeida within a minute of the restart.

Ronaldo hit another post not long after before Nani had two long-range efforts well saved, as did Moutinho, while Almeida had a goal correctly chalked off for offside.

The Czechs had only a sizzling run from Vaclav Pilar to show for their efforts in the first 30 minutes of the second half.

Aside from the occasional flutter from the Czechs, the Portuguese were well on top and eventually their pressure paid off when Ronaldo stole in at the back post to score the winner.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 22, 2012, on page 15.




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