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Ronaldo shines as Portugal turn on the style

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Portuguese forward Nuno Gomes (R) and Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo celebrate after Ronaldo scored a goal during the Euro 2008 Championships Group A football match Czech Republic vs. Portugal on June 11, 2008 at Stade de Geneve in Geneva, Switzerland. Credit:  Dimitar Dilfokk, Getty Images

Portuguese forward Nuno Gomes (R) and Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo celebrate after Ronaldo scored a goal during the Euro 2008 Championships Group A football match Czech Republic vs. Portugal on June 11, 2008 at Stade de Geneve in Geneva, Switzerland. Credit: Dimitar Dilfokk, Getty Images

Portuguese forward Nuno Gomes (R) and Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo celebrate after Ronaldo scored a goal during the Euro 2008 Championships Group A football match Czech Republic vs. Portugal on June 11, 2008 at Stade de Geneve in Geneva, Switzerland. Credit: Dimitar Dilfokk, Getty Images

The second Portuguese goal was not quite Cristiano Ronaldo's most spectacular, his performance not exactly the most sublime he has ever conjured in a big game, but he was the matchwinner for Portugal and the man upon whom all eyes alighted at the final whistle. Which is, of course, exactly how he likes it.

The player who is touted to light up Euro 2008 delivered Portugal three hard-won points to smooth their progress through Group A. Ronaldo scored their second goal and made the third for Ricardo Quaresma as the Czech Republic's resistance was finally worn down.

Ronaldo will have to deliver more personally if this is to be remembered as his tournament but then those are the expectations placed on the shoulders of those from whom greatness is anticipated. If his performance yesterday lacked the great flourish, it was not bad nonetheless.

The first goal from Deco, after eight minutes, seemed to prefigure a straightforward Portuguese win but the Czechs fought back. They equalised through Libor Sionko and exposed some of the flaws at the heart of their opponents before finally succumbing to a late third goal. A quick free-kick set Ronaldo free and, bearing down on goal, he surprised everyone in the stadium by squaring the ball to Quaresma to finish.

If Roman Abramovich wanted to learn for himself the nature of the manager he has acquired, the Chelsea owner will have noticed the moment after 34 minutes when Milan Baros broke down the right wing and turned towards the Portugal goal. Luiz Felipe Scolari came so far out of his technical area, and at a reasonable clip for a 59-year-old, that for a moment you thought the old boy was angling for a sliding tackle of his own on the Czech striker.

Ronaldo was decisive in Portugal's first goal, although he did not score it, and for a while it seemed that he would break the Czech defence on his own.

It did not prove quite as simple as that for Portugal, although his exchange of passes with Nuno Gomes before the goal was brilliant and only Petr Cech's save prevented him from scoring. The Chelsea goalkeeper was good enough to stop Ronaldo's initial shot and the follow-up from Deco -- indeed he almost kept out the third attempt from the Barcelona midfielder but that one turned out to be good enough to give Portugal the lead.

To the Czechs' credit they did not make the same mistake twice. Red shirts massed around the Manchester United winger every time he set off towards goal and nine minutes later they equalised.

It was the kind of unsophisticated goal that top international defences are set up not to concede -- a virtually free header from Sionko direct from a corner.

With the game level, Portugal looked less fluent and struggled to get behind the Czechs, especially for a side blessed with two such good wingers in Ronaldo and Simao Sabrosa. Only when Paulo Ferreira broke through five minutes from half-time did they properly test Cech again, the keeper saving Ronaldo's low, venomous shot.

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It was the physical, uncompromising element to the Czech side that Scolari's team found most difficult to deal with and they got behind the Portuguese early in the second half to allow Sionko to send a ball across the face of the goal that Baros could not reach. The Czech defence made short work of Ronaldo around the box and the treatment was not as unfair as the United winger's protests. He was close to losing his temper before he tucked away his first goal of the competition.

Quick feet and an eye for the opportunity carried Ronaldo through the penalty area and onto the end of Deco's pass across goal. He stroked his shot out of Cech's reach and into the far corner. It was exactly the kind of predatory goal which made up the bulk of his 42 for United this season. On the touchline Scolari jumped into the arms of his assistants. But holding out against the Czechs was not as simple.

Despite the undoubted qualities of Ricardo Carvalho and Pepe, Portugal still seem to lack substance in the centre of their defence. Tomas Ufjalusi had headed another corner wide just before Ronaldo's goal. Sionko's header later on was tipped over by Ricardo. Portugal seemed to wobble when the ball was played into the box, especially with Jan Koller on as a substitute. Only when Quaresma scored the third did they finally look comfortable. (© Independent News Service)


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