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Rampant Ronaldo makes mockery of Barca taunts as Portugal march into semi-finals

HE might be viewed as the world's 12th best player in Barcelona, but Cristiano Ronaldo's crusade to ensure he becomes a king of Europe saw him drag Portugal into the Euro 2012 semi-finals with a stunning header against the Czech Republic.

The dismissive evaluation of Ronaldo's current status by Barcelona president Sandro Rosell, an attempt to suggest the Real Madrid star would not make the starting XI at the Nou Camp, will have been noted by a player acutely aware of his self-importance.

But the best way to ridicule nonsensical opinions is to let actions speak louder than words and the Portugal captain did just that by inspiring his team to victory against the dismal Czechs in Warsaw.

Ronaldo could have had a hat-trick, but one was enough, with his 79th-minute diving header from Joao Moutinho's cross booking a semi-final date against Spain or France in Donetsk next Wednesday.

Considering that this was the game that Warsaw really did not want to see, the Polish supporters who had bought tickets optimistically expecting the co-hosts to take on the Dutch or the Germans in the National Stadium sportingly turned out to ensure this did not become the runt of the litter alongside the other, more eye-catching quarter-finals.

The group stages may have been thrillingly devoid of a single goalless draw, but knock-out football is a different animal and coaches Michal Bilek and Paulo Bento both deployed the safety-first approach with cautious game-plans.

Petr Jiracek, the Czech Republic's bearded winger, attempted to inject some flair into the game down the right flank, and he instigated the first chance of the game on 18 minutes when he released Vladimir Darida inside the Portuguese penalty area.

The Viktoria Plzen midfielder crossed for Milan Baros, but the striker was out-muscled by Pepe at the near post. Back in Euro 96, these two countries played out a similarly tense quarter-final at Villa Park, which was only enlivened by Karel Poborsky's memorable lobbed winner over goalkeeper Vitor Baia for the Czechs.

For such a moment of magic to happen in this game, it required Jiracek or Ronaldo to elevate themselves above the rest, and although Ronaldo spent much of the game moaning at referee Howard Webb, he produced the vital touch when required.

The former Manchester United winger almost broke the deadlock in first-half stoppage-time when he escaped the attentions of Michal Kadlec before aiming a right-foot volley against the foot of Petr Cech's left-hand post.

Portugal's attacking output appeared to have been compromised by the loss of striker Helder Postiga to a hamstring injury shortly before the interval but his replacement, Hugo Almeida proved to be an improvement, although not for his finishing.

The Besiktas forward sent two good headed chances over the crossbar early in the second half and also had a goal correctly ruled out for offside following Nani's cross.

But while Almeida's radar was off-beam, he added a presence to the front-line, enabling Ronaldo and Nani to push and torment Bilek's team incessantly. Ronaldo struck the post again with a 30-yard free-kick and he was also unlucky to volley over after being teed up by Raul Meireles.

Nani then forced a fine save from Cech with another long-distance strike before the Chelsea goalkeeper denied Joao Moutinho with a finger-tip save to push his 25-yard shot over the bar.

However, Ronaldo had the final say when he scored his third goal of the tournament and secured the victory that Portugal deserved. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent