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Euro 2012: Headstrong Ronaldo lifts Portugal

Mugshot

Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates winning the Euro 2012 quarterfinal match between Czech Republic and Portugal in Warsaw, Poland, on Thursday, June 21, 2012. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)

WARSAW, Poland — Cristiano Ronaldo scored on a powerful header in the 79th minute, sending Portugal to the European Championship semifinals with a 1-0 victory over the Czech Republic on Thursday.

Ronaldo hit the post twice, then finally delivered. He headed a cross by Joao Moutinho straight at the ground and up past the flailing hands of Czech goalkeeper Petr Cech.

This was Ronaldo’s third goal in two games and it rewarded the Portuguese for the relentless pressure they applied all match.

“I remember in the last game I hit the post twice, too,” Ronaldo said. “But the most important thing is I managed to score this time, we won and are in the semifinals. Now it is big smiles and good music.”

Portugal will play Spain or France in the semifinals in Donetsk, Ukraine, on Wednesday. It is one victory from its second European Championship final in eight years.

Ronaldo already provided some leadership and two goals to get past the Netherlands in group play, and his encore Thursday was huge.

“It’s just that Ronaldo is better. He can play with his head, with both feet,” Czech Republic coach Michal Bilek said. “That decided the match.”

His goal finally punished the tactics of the Czechs, who had parked most of their players in front of Cech for much of the game.

The Czechs did not have a shot on goal, and only two attempts during the match. The Euro 2004 runners-up had 20 attempts.

“The Czechs didn’t have a single chance,” Ronaldo said.

The strategy worked for a while. In first-half injury time, Ronaldo deadened a cross from Raul Meireles on his chest, turned and with two touches set up a right-foot shot that had Cech beaten before it crashed against the near post.

In the 49th, Ronaldo again clipped the post on a free kick from 25 yards.

“In the second half, we lost our strength and determination and they had one chance that decided the match,” Bilek said.

By then, Ronaldo had hit the post four times in two games. When he finally scored and was mobbed by teammates, he went over to the TV camera with a beaming smile and offered a victory kiss.

“We have suffered,” Portugal forward Nani said. “But we always wanted to win, and that’s what we showed. We were superior, then we scored and we really deserved this result.”

At the final whistle, Ronaldo dropped to his knees with clenched fists, then rose as Miguel Veloso jumped into his arms in celebration. For the second match in a row, Ronaldo has dominated for Portugal. And as a result, Portugal is still in the hunt for its first major title.

“We had a lot of chances,” Ronaldo said. “We had a great unity on the pitch and that is why we have reached our goal.”

The Czechs started without captain Tomas Rosicky, who hadn’t recovered from an Achilles tendon injury to start in the country’s most important game since it lost in the Euro 2004 semifinals.

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