Cristiano Ronaldo 1-0 “Cech” Republic
It was a case of: come of the hour, come of the man as the Portuguese captain inspired his side to a semi final berth. He superimposed his performance against the Dutch last Sunday with an even more electrifying performance. Petr Cech threatened to steal the show though, as he made a string of impressive saves particularly in the second half. Portugal are building momentum at a crucial stage in these championships and are emerging as a real dark horse. The winner of the France/Spain needs to beware.
The Czechs were organised throughout and particularly in the first half, Gebre Selassie’s man-marking of Cristiano Ronaldo was effective. The eastern Europeans absorbed as much as they could and threatened on the break. However the Portuguese defence has always been their strong point, and they were able to thwart everything thrown at them; including a series of corners in the first half. On the quarter hour, Vladimir Darida having an excellent debut, swung a teasing arcing cross for Baros who was unable to capitalise.
Ronaldo would not be content with Baros stealing the show though and was the nucleus of the Portuguese attack. He was wrongly penalised for a foul when he shrugged his marker off before driving at Cech. He hit the post just before the break after swivelling past his Czech escort, Michal Kadlec and hitting a fierce drive.
The short halftime respite made no difference as the Portuguese increased the tempo after the break. Hugo Almeida headed over when he attempted to finsih a move constructed straight from the kick-off. Petr Cech kept his team in the match for as long as possible. Ronaldo’s free kick had beaten him and hit the post, while the livewire Nani then João Moutinho stung Cech’s fingertips from distance. His save against Moutinho’s strike was a candidate for the best of the tournament so far. Petr Jiráček, a Jens Jeremies lookalike, was having yet another excellent match and his incursions into Portuguese territory kept their defence on alert.
The Portuguese siege continued and Nani’s deflected shot went just over the crossbar. He had the Czech defence at his mercy when he outstripped his marker but fluffed his cross straight into Cech’s hands. The Petr Cech force field was shattered however, when Nani found Moutinho on the right and the Porto playmaker found Ronaldo’s head who made no mistake. Portugal saw out the final ten minutes in Warsaw playing a passing game slicker than Ronaldo’s new haircut and erupted as a nation when the final whistle sounded. They face the winners of the quarter final between France and Spain in Donetsk full of confidence that they can overturn whoever stands in their way. The world is sitting up and taking notice.