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Soccer Champions League

EURO 2012: Cristiano Ronaldo Sees Portugal Past Czech Republic, 1-0, Wins Hearts

Last night, at his truculent and conspicuous best, Cristiano Ronaldo launched Portugal into the EURO 2012 semi finals with a 1-0 victory over the Czech Republic.

As Eric Imhof wrote, “There are plenty of people who of course want to see Cristiano Ronaldo fail”. This is true when he is prancing up the touchline for Real Madrid, but something seems to be happening at EURO 2012: Ronaldo is gaining momentum and support from many corners. The more he plays at this tournament the more people want to see CR7 shine.

This game was no different. Having put Holland to the sword almost singlehandedly the captain took to the field again, for the first quarter final against Group A winners Czech Republic, with a determined air. In the tunnel before the match he was caught grinning at opposition goalkeeper and captain Petr Cech. He planned to haunt the man.

The first half was an uneventful affair, with poor passing and dallying on the ball a hallmark for both sides. Portugal had the more admirable squad, but Helder Postiga was still up front on his own with Ronaldo a winger once more. Miguel Veloso was misplacing passes and Nani seemed to abhor getting the ball into play early.

The only excitement in that half came from Ronaldo. In a beautiful move he chested a pass and knocked the ball behind himself, turned past the defense and smashed the ball against the base of the post before Cech knew what was happening. He cracked an anguished face and the Czechs realized that Ronaldo meant business.

The second half had more of the same as Portugal occupied opposition territory. Ronaldo again bounced a ball off the post following one of his trademark free kicks. You could almost hear the swooning as he stood before the ball, legs spread; chest up; arms by his side. He hit the ball, which rose and then plummeted. Cech again looked powerless, but the post stood firm. It was the fourth time in as many games Ronaldo had damaged the woodwork.

Then, with quarter of an hour left to play, Ronaldo popped up to steal a winner.

The industrious Joao Moutinho burst past the cover to clip a ball in and as substitute striker Hugo Almeida stood too flat to catch the ball Ronaldo peeled round a static defender to thump a header into the ground in front of Cech. It bounced up into the roof of the net and Portugal were ahead.

Ronaldo tore away from his teammates, groping at the air with both hands and drawing unadulterated love from the crowd. He was loving every second of this and the global fan was too. He was forgiven every gripe; every tantrum; every petulant display of undermining his teammates. He loves to score and the world loves to see him do it.

It helps that he is playing for one of the underdogs.

Ronaldo is world class, perhaps the best player in the tournament, and he is nudging Portugal forward through sheer force of personality. Everyone can appreciate that and the fans keep on coming.

He is also scoring goals, netting three in the last two matches. If he ends up as Euro 2012’s top scorer we may all fall for the silky and self assured Cristiano Ronaldo. We already have a semi final date set with him.