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Saturday, June 23, 2012
Ronaldo sends Portugal past Czechs, into Euro semis
WARSAW — After his powerful header lifted Portugal into the semifinals of the European Championship, Cristiano Ronaldo looked ahead at the possibilities, not behind at his achievement.
Ronaldo scored in the 79th minute for a 1-0 victory over the Czech Republic on Thursday. The Portuguese dominated the action and Ronaldo hit the post twice, then finally delivered. He headed a cross by Joao Moutinho straight at the ground and up past the flailing hands of Czech goalkeeper Petr Cech, who was spectacular in defeat.
"Expectations are high," the Real Madrid star said. "We have to keep our feet firmly on the ground and take one step at a time. We have to win the next game. The goal is to get to the final."
This was Ronaldo's third goal in two games and it rewarded the Portuguese for the relentless pressure they applied all match.
"I remember in the last game I hit the post twice, too," Ronaldo said. "But the most important thing is I managed to score this time, we won and are in the semifinals. Now it is big smiles and good music."
Portugal will play Spain or France in the semifinals in Donetsk, Ukraine, on Wednesday. It is one victory from its second European Championship final in eight years; the Portuguese lost at home to Greece in the 2004 title game.
Ronaldo already provided some leadership and two goals to get past the Netherlands in group play, and his encore Thursday was huge.
"It's just that Ronaldo is better. He can play with his head, with both feet," Czech Republic coach Michal Bilek said. "That decided the match."
His goal finally punished the tactics of the Czechs, who had parked most of their players in front of Cech for much of the game.
The Czechs did not have a shot on goal, and only two attempts during the match. The Euro 2004 runnerup had 20 attempts.
"The Czechs didn't have a single chance," Ronaldo said.
The strategy worked for a while. 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.
In the 49th, Ronaldo again clipped the post on a free kick from 25 meters.
"In the second half, we lost our strength and determination and they had one chance that decided the match," Bilek said.
By then, Ronaldo had hit the post four times in two games. When he finally scored and was mobbed by teammates, he went over to the TV camera with a beaming smile and offered a victory kiss.
"We have suffered," Portugal forward Nani said. "But we always wanted to win and that's what we showed. We were superior, then we scored and we really deserved this result."
At the final whistle, Ronaldo dropped to his knees with clenched fists, then rose as Miguel Veloso jumped into his arms in celebration. For the second match in a row, Ronaldo has dominated for Portugal. And as a result, Portugal is still in the hunt for its first major title.
"We had a lot of chances," Ronaldo said. "We had a great unity on the pitch and that is why we have reached our goal."
The Czechs started without captain Tomas Rosicky, who hadn't recovered from an Achilles tendon injury to start in the country's most important game since it lost in the Euro 2004 semifinals.
Kagawa flies to U.K.
New Manchester United acquisition Shinji Kagawa departed for England on Thursday from Narita Airport to undergo a physical.
Earlier in the day, the Japan midfielder visited a primary school in Sendai that was damaged in last year's earthquake and tsunami, and played with the students.
"Do what you can to hold on to a dream and pursue it," the 23-year-old, who played youth soccer in Sendai, told the children.
Kagawa was taking part in a three-day project to assist in the rebuilding of the disaster-hit area by meeting primary school children in Fukushima and Miyagi Prefectures.
He is scheduled to have a medical examination on Friday in Manchester and return to Japan on Saturday.
U.S. to take on Mexico
CHICAGO — The U.S. soccer team will face rival Mexico on Aug. 15 in Mexico City, the first exhibition between the two on Mexican soil in nearly 18 years.
The Americans are still seeking their first win south of the border in a series that dates to 1934. Mexico is 23-0-1 against the U.S. on its home turf.