A late header from Cristiano Ronaldo lifted Portugal past the Czech Republic 1-0 and into the semifinals of the European soccer championship.
Ronaldo’s goal in the 79th minute last night in Warsaw sent Portugal through to the last four for the third time in the past four Euro tournaments. It next plays world champion Spain or France, who meet tomorrow.
“We don’t mind who we play,” Portugal coach Paulo Bento said at a news conference. “It was a lot of work to get to the semifinals, so we’ll try to recover the best we can to get out on the pitch in the best condition.”
Germany, the bookmakers’ favorite to lift the trophy for a record-extending fourth time, meets 2004 champion Greece in tonight’s quarterfinal in Donetsk, Ukraine. The winner faces England or Italy, who play in two days.
Portugal had 57 percent of possession last night and a 20-2 shot advantage, 15 of those coming in the second half when the Czechs hardly challenged. Ronaldo, who had nine shots, finally beat Czech goalkeeper Petr Cech after twice hitting the post at the National Stadium.
“We had a lot of chances while the Czechs didn’t have a single one,” Ronaldo, who was jeered by the pro-Czech crowd, told reporters. “We had great unity on the pitch and that’s why we’ve reached our goal.”
The game’s opening 25 minutes produced little offensively with Portugal’s Joao Moutinho having the only shot on target, which Cech easily caught. Ronaldo was wide with an overhead kick and sent a free kick past the right post.
Portugal striker Helder Postiga was forced out in the 40th minute with a hamstring injury and was replaced by Hugo Almeida.
The Portuguese continued to control play and almost went in front in stoppage time at the end of the first half. Ronaldo took Raul Meireles’s pass over the defense off his chest, took a touch, turned and fired a shot off the post.
Almeida headed over the goal from 5.5 meters out 20 seconds into the second half. Ronaldo then clipped the outside of the far post with a free kick and didn’t make full contact as he shot wide after being played through by Meireles.
Nani forced Cech into a diving save after the Czechs gave the ball away in their area. Almeida was then ruled to be offside as he headed Nani’s cross past Cech in the 59th minute.
The Czech Republic made a rare run into the Portugal end a minute later as winger Vaclav Pilar carried the ball into the area before having his cross cleared away. Cech tipped Moutinho’s shot over the bar, Almeida put a header wide and Michal Kadlec then deflected Nani’s shot out for a corner after the winger was free in the area.
Portugal’s persistence paid off with 11 minutes left as Moutinho sent a cross from the right that Ronaldo headed past Cech. It was the Real Madrid striker’s third goal of Euro 2012, tying Germany’s Mario Gomez, Russia’s Alan Dzagoev and Croatia’s Mario Madzukic for the tournament lead.
The Czech Republic qualified for the quarterfinals by becoming the first team to win their group with a negative goal difference. They were trying to reach the semifinals for the second time since 2004.
“It was like we were waiting for the opponent to score,” Czech coach Michal Bilek told reporters. “We knew we really weren’t on their level of play.”