Marseille: Cristiano Ronaldo took his "dream" of an international title another step closer when Portugal beat Poland in a penalty shootout to reach the European Championship semi-finals on Thursday.
Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo exults after scoring against Poland in the tie-breaker. Pic/AFP
Goal in 100 seconds
Robert Lewandowski scored barely 100 seconds into the latest night of Euro 2016 drama before Portugal unleashed the player, who many say could lead the country’s post-Ronaldo era.
Making his first start at Euro 2016, Renato Sanches, a powerful 18-year-old and already a $38 million player, smashed home a 25 metre drive to equalise and send the match into extra time and then penalties. Sanches then followed Ronaldo in hitting home his spot kick as Portugal won 5-3, having again failed to win a game in 90 minutes. Ronaldo however, said it was an "unforgettable" night as Portugal had reached their semi-final target. He also acknowledged that the prize he really cherishes is a world/European title. And at 31, he knows time is running out. "The dream is getting closer and anything can happen now. I’m not missing anything (in honours) and even if my career finished today, I’d still feel privileged.
Poland’s Jakub Blaszczykowski (left) is comforted by Portugal coach Fernando Santos after his missed penalty saw his team lose 3-5 on Thursday. Pic/AP/PTI
"But I’ve always said that I would love to win a title with Portugal. We’re on the right road," said the Real Madrid star. Poland started strongly, with Robert Lewandowski scoring his first goal of Euro 2016 before the stadium had settled. Kamil Grosicki hurried past right-back Cedric Soares to deliver a great cross for Lewandowski to drive past a flailing Rui Patricio as Poland made a flying start. It was the Polish striker’s first goal of the competition, after hitting a record 13 in qualifying. Sanches, his new teammate at Bayern Munich, rescued Portugal.
Portugal players celebrate after beating Poland 5-3 via tie-breaker in the Euro 2016 quarter-finals at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille on Thursday. Pic/AFP
German referee Felix Brych waved away Ronaldo’s claims for a penalty on 31 minutes despite replays suggesting he was bundled over by centre-back Michal Pazdan as he went to meet a cross. Two minutes later, Sanches collected Nani’s cutback from the right side of the area and hit a fierce shot that deflected off Grzegorz Krychowiak and beat Lukasz Fabianski at his near post.
Portugal should’ve had the winner on 85 minutes, but after sneaking behind Pazan to meet a high ball from Joao Moutinho, Ronaldo’s left foot failed to connect with a simple chance.
Quaresma wins it
Goalkeeper Rui Patricio and Ricardo Quaresma were Portugal’s shootout heroes. Patricio dived left to save Jakub Blaszczykowski’s fourth shot for the Poles, who had reached the quarter-finals for the first time. Quaresma was next up for Portugal and made no mistake.
Sanches said it was a "wonderful moment for the team" and made little of Portugal’s failure to get a clear win again: "People criticise us but we don’t care, because we’re in the semis.
Poland meanwhile, were disconsolate. "It hurts and it will hurt for a long time," Lewandowski said as he watched Ronaldo celebrate.