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Ronaldo sends Portugal into Euro 2012 semis

By Kevin Darling, CNN
June 22, 2012 -- Updated 1219 GMT (2019 HKT)
Cristiano Ronaldo scored his third goal of the tournament to set up a semifinal clash against France or Spain.
Cristiano Ronaldo scored his third goal of the tournament to set up a semifinal clash against France or Spain.
  • Cristiano Ronaldo scores winner as Portugal knock Czech Republic out of Euro 2012
  • Ronaldo heads decisive goal after 79 minutes of quarterfinal in Warsaw
  • Portugal spurned numerous chances before eventually taking the lead
  • Paulo Bento's side will face either France or Spain in next week's semifinal

(CNN) -- Cristiano Ronaldo's late header sealed a deserved win for Portugal in the Euro 2012 quarterfinal clash against Czech Republic.

The Real Madrid forward, who found form so emphatically with two goals in the previous match against Holland, proved the difference once again as he powered home a Joao Moutinho cross with 11 minutes remaining.

It was no less than Portugal's display merited after they dominated the second half against an unfancied Czech side that started the match brightly but faded drastically.

Portugal's win set up a semifinal meeting next Wednesday against either France or Spain.

"We played very well, created a lot of chances and I hit the post twice," Ronaldo told TV reporters after the victory.

Spain's soccer team celebrates with the Euro 2012 trophy on a double-decker bus during the victory parade in Madrid on Monday. Spain defeated Italy 4-0 in the final match on Sunday. Euro 2012, bringing together 16 of Europe's best national soccer teams, began June 8 in Poland and Ukraine. Look back at the action and atmosphere. Spain's soccer team celebrates with the Euro 2012 trophy on a double-decker bus during the victory parade in Madrid on Monday. Spain defeated Italy 4-0 in the final match on Sunday. Euro 2012, bringing together 16 of Europe's best national soccer teams, began June 8 in Poland and Ukraine. Look back at the action and atmosphere.
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"We know it'll be difficult in the next game, but we're very a mature team and we're ready for the fight."

This match was a repeat of the Euro '96 quarterfinal in England, where Karel Poborsky scored a famous scooped lob to give the Czech underdogs a 1-0 win.

It was that losing Portugal side, elegantly marshaled by the likes of Rui Costa and Luis Figo, which prompted Ruud Gullit to coin the phrase "sexy football."

And there was plenty to seduce viewers in Portugal's second-half display in Warsaw, as the Czechs were blown away by their opponents' pace and guile going forward.

Not that Paulo Bento side's superiority was evident in a cagey first half where the Portuguese were labored and sloppy, in contrast to the lively, well-drilled Czechs.

Still, it was Ronaldo who almost broke the deadlock with a moment of brilliance seconds before halftime.

The winger deftly chested down a Raul Meireles pass inside the Czech box, spun cleverly away from Michael Kadlec and unleashed a low shot that bounced back off the post.

The Portugal captain looked to the heavens in exasperation, but it was a warning sign the Czechs would have heeded.

Yet Michal Bilek's side were powerless to stem the tide of Portuguese attacks that followed after the break.

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Minutes after the restart, Ronaldo hit the post again -- this time with a fearsome 35-yard free-kick.

It set the tone for the remainder of the game as Portugal relentlessly pinned the Czechs back, with chances coming thick and fast.

Hugo Almeida sent a free header tamely over the bar, before Petr Cech parried Nani's venomous hit and tipped over a fizzing effort from Moutinho. Meireles and Nani then fired chances over the bar with the goal begging.

Ronaldo, inevitably, had a few attempts of his own too.

He fired a shot over and had several efforts blocked, the spasms of anguish that greeted each miss becoming increasingly animated.

But that frustration was released with the clock ticking towards extra time, as Ronaldo's aerial prowess came to the fore.

Moutinho delivered a right-wing cross and Ronaldo hurled himself at the ball to send a powerful header into the ground and bouncing over the outstretched fingers of Cech to spark wild Portuguese celebrations.

Portugal are unlikely to be the favorites in the semifinals, whichever team they face, but with Europe's best player looking at the peak of his powers, who would bet against them?

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