WARSAW, Poland (AP) – Cristiano Ronaldo and his finely coiffed head of hair knocked in the only goal Thursday, sending Portugal into the European Championship semifinals with a 1-0 victory over the Czech Republic.
After Ronaldo twice hit the post, he finally darted in from behind his marker in the 79th minute with all the instincts of an all out striker and headed a cross from Joao Moutinho straight at the ground and up past the flailing hands of Czech Republic goalkeeper Petr Cech.
It rewarded his country for the relentless pressure throughout the match and Ronaldo with a third goal in two matches.
Portugal, which will play either Spain or France in the semifinals in Donetsk, Ukraine, next Wednesday, is one game away from reaching its second European Championship final in eight years.
Ronaldo already provided some leadership and two goals to get past the Netherlands in the decisive last group game, and his encore was the lone goal on Thursday.
His strike finally punished the negative tactics of the Czechs, who had parked most of their players in front of Cech for much of the game.
For long it seemed to work, as even luck seemed to go against the Portuguese.
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. He threw up his eyes skyward in despair, and for long the desperation would continue.
In the 49th, Ronaldo clipped the post with a 25-meter free kick as pressure immediately increased in a match where the Czechs seemed to be looking for little else than a rare counterattack ahead of a penalty shootout.
By then, Ronaldo had hit the post four times in two games. And when he finally scored and was mobbed by his teammates, he went over to the camera with a beaming smile for a victory kiss to the rest of the world.
At the final whistle, Ronaldo dropped to his knees with clenched fists, then rose as Miguel Veloso jumped into his arms in celebration.