Ronaldo strike helps sink Czech Republic

Czech Republic 1 Portugal 3

Czech Republic 1 Portugal 3

Cristiano Ronaldo’s sweet second-half strike all but put Portugal into the Euro 2008 quarter-finals today as Luiz Felipe Scolari’s team beat Czech Republic at the Stade de Geneve.

The Manchester United star coolly slotted home after being teed up by Deco shortly after the hour to put the Portuguese in the lead for a second time, Libor Sionko having cancelled out Deco’s opener.

Substitute Ricardo Quaresma put matters absolutely beyond doubt in stoppage-time when he tapped home from Ronaldo’s pass.

The victory takes Portugal onto six points in Group A following their opening-day win over Turkey, while the Czechs – who beat co-hosts Switzerland 1-0 in the curtain-raiser – will look to clinch a last-eight spot on Sunday when they face Fatih Terim’s Turks.

Czech coach Karel Bruckner made two changes to his starting line-up, with Marek Matejovsky replacing David Jarolim in midfield and Milan Baros coming in for Jan Koller up front, while Scolari stuck with the same XI that overcame Turkey.

The Czechs started brightly, but the opening goal came at the other end.

Ronaldo played a one-two with Nuno Gomes, which Petr Cech came to deal with, and Deco scrambled home at the second attempt.

Baros’ first sight of goal came on the quarter-hour mark when he headed Zdenek Grygera’s cross over Ricardo’s bar.

The Czechs were level two minutes later, however, thanks to a diving header from Sionko – one of the smallest men on the pitch – following Jaroslav Plasil’s corner.

Deco soon found space to try to restore Portugal’s lead, but his shot was too high to trouble Cech, and the Chelsea goalkeeper got down well seconds later to keep out a low drive from Ronaldo.

The game continued to flow from end to end at pace, with Sionko’s pull-back from a corner causing panic in the Portuguese defence before the danger was cleared.

Cech again had to be alert four minutes before half-time to palm away a left-footed blast and a fierce right-footed free-kick from Ronaldo, but he was more than equal to both.

The second half began in a similar vein, with both teams on the front foot.

Matejovsky slid a neat ball into the area and into the path of Sionko, whose low cross just evaded the onrushing Czech attackers three minutes after the break.

Nuno Gomes did well to get a shot away but it was at a comfortable height for Cech.

The Benfica striker then almost capitalised on hesitancy from David Rozehnal, but the Lazio defender got back well to make amends.

Portugal were beginning to create half-chances, Simao Sabrosa the next to try his luck from 12 yards only to be denied by Cech.

Then came what proved to be the game’s decisive 60 seconds.

After 62 minutes, Czech captain Tomas Ujfalusi got up well at the near post but saw his header flash across goal and narrowly wide from Plasil’s corner.

At the other end, Deco rolled the ball to Ronaldo on the edge of the area and the 23-year-old struck his first goal of the tournament into the bottom-left corner.

Plasil almost set up an equaliser for the Czechs shortly afterwards when he headed a corner back across goal but no colleague was on hand to take advantage.

Bruckner introduced the Czechs’ all-time leading goalscorer Koller after 73 minutes to join Baros up front in pursuit of an equaliser.

The only time Ricardo was unduly troubled in the remaining 17 minutes, however, was when he had to tip a Sionko header over the bar from substitute Stanislav Vlcek’s corner.

And on the stroke of full-time, the Portuguese made absolutely certain when Ronaldo broke free and unselfishly played in substitute Quaresma for the clincher.

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