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King of the world: Ronaldo rises to the occasion... again

Miguel Delaney was in Warsaw to watch Cristiano Ronaldo further banish all the old claims of his career… and send Portugal through to the semi-finals

King of the world
King of the world

THE BUILD-UP TO this quarter-final was completely dominated by questions about Cristiano Ronaldo. Tonight, though, the Portuguese forward answered the biggest question of all: he dominated a big international game and, increasingly, the tournament.

Since Ronaldo scored the winner in the Clasico in May, he has been gradually battering away at the claims that he can’t rise to the elite occasions.

Last night’s thundering header against the Czech Republic was his third of the tournament, as well as a goal that marks a remarkable escalation in his rate of scoring in these events.

Prior to last Sunday, Ronaldo had actually only scored three goals in his previous three summer competitions. One was the second in a 2-0 win against Iran, another the second in a 3-1 win over – coincidentally – the Czech Republic, and the last one was the sixth in a 7-0 win over North Korea.

His double against the Dutch, then, marked something of a watershed.

And, even more impressively, this strike against the Czechs marked a step-up again.

This, however, was not just because it was a quarter-final.

Against the Netherlands, after all, Ronaldo was afforded the freedom of the left flank.

That wasn’t the case with the Czechs though. As manager Michal Bilek said before the game, “we will adjust out tactic to be more defensive”.

And how. The first time that Ronaldo got the ball in anything like a promising position, he was crowded out by three opposition defenders.

Given that Portugal are a generally counter-attacking team, too, that made for the tightest, most tense game of the tournament. For a long while, it seemed like it would produce the first 0-0.

All of that, however, makes Ronaldo’s goal even more impressive. In a game where space was at a premium, he found enough to force the winner.

It made him joint top scorer and sent the Portuguese into their first European semi-final in eight years.

Suddenly, too, they’re looking like a side that will pose quite an awkward challenge to whoever they meet in the last four.

At the back, they’ve got an exceptionally hard-bitten defence that may well be the best in the tournament. In front of that, they’ve got a fair amount of fight and finesse in midfield. And, ahead of that, if they can properly harness it, they’ve got the firepower of Ronaldo.

Even if they end up playing the Spanish, that is exactly the balance – bite at the back, pace up front – that could cause the world champions problems.

At the least, Ronaldo has caused problems for the Ballon D’Or voters. In a year when Leo Messi couldn’t quite drive Barcelona to a Champions League or a liga, a strong finish to this championship may well see him reclaim the award he so craves. He’s more than halfway there. And so are Portugal.

As it happened: Czech Republic v Portugal, Euro 2012 quarter final

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