Portugal’s play-maker Cristiano Ronaldo hit a second-half goal to all but book his side’s place in the Euro 2008 quarter-finals in a 3-1 win over the Czech Republic here on Wednesday.
As Manchester United struggle to keep him at Old Trafford and Real Madrid attempt to lure him to Spain, the 23-year-old playmaker showed why the European giants are battling for his services with an impressive performance.
After Barcelona’s Deco had given Portugal an eighth-minute lead, the Czechs hit back with a brilliant header from midfielder Libor Sionko on 17 minutes, before Ronaldo sealed the game with a superb shot in the 63rd minute.
And he then turned provider for Portuguese substitute Ricardo Quaresmo to score a third goal in extra-time.
After both sides had got off to winning starts last Saturday in their Euro 2008 Group A campaigns, the result leaves the Portuguese on six points and all but sure to reach the last eight.
Last Saturday, Portugal beat Turkey 2-0 and the Czechs – who had broken Switzerland’s defence with a 1-0 win – will now need to beat Turkey here on Saturday in their last group game to be sure to reach the last eight.
Before kick-off, Czech coach Karel Bruckner had found no place in his starting line-up for towering forward Jan Koller, prefering to go with former Liverpool marksman Milan Baros as the lone striker.
And Hamburg midfielder David Jarolim, who had started against Switzerland, also found himself on the bench.
In contrast, Portugal coach Luiz Felipe Scolari kept the same side who tormented Turkey.
The game had an electric start at the Stade de Geneve when Ronaldo darted into the area and played a cute one-two with Benfica striker Nuno Gomes in the games opening moments.
The Real Madrid target drew Czech goalkeeper Petr Cech before centre-forward Deco flicked the ball into the empty net on eight minutes.
But despite their early set back, the Czechs hit back as defender Jaroslav Plasil swung in a cross and Sionko powered his header past Portugal ‘keeper Ricardo on 16 minutes.
The first booking of the game came shortly after when Anderlecht midfielder Jan Polak tackled Pepe from behind, but Chelsea-bound Jose Bosingwa followed into the referee’s book with a heavy foul on 31 minutes.
Ronaldo tested Cech when he unleashed a powerful shot just before half-time which forced the Chelsea goalkeeper into a diving save.
After a slow start to the second half from both sides, Portugal started to exert some authority.
The threatened break through came in the 63rd minute when Deco laid the ball across the penalty area for Ronaldo to drill his shot under Cech.
With time running out, Bruckner sent Koller into the action at the expense of his Nuremberg team-mate Tomas Galasek, while Jarolim also entered the fray, but it was too late for the Czechs chances.
And it was all over in the 91st minute as Ronaldo saw off the Czech threat as he drew Cech and slipped a pass for Quaresma to hammer the ball into an empty net.
Portugal will face co-hosts Switzerland in Basel on Sunday in their final group stage game.
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