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Portugal-Czech Republic Preview
By CHRIS ALTRUDA
(AP) -- LONDON (SE) - Cristiano Ronaldo gave Portugal life to emerge from the Group of Death.
The superstar forward now seeks a second trip to the European Championship semifinals Thursday when he leads Portugal against Petr Cech and the Czech Republic in Warsaw, Poland.
Decried and derided in the Quinas' first two matches for squandering more than a few gilt-edged chances in what was considered the toughest group of the 16-nation tournament, Ronaldo finally displayed the brilliance of his 60-goal season with Real Madrid on an international stage in Sunday's 2-1 victory over the Netherlands.
Able to freely roam against a Dutch side in desperate need of goals to advance, Ronaldo grabbed the decisive match by the throat and rallied Portugal by scoring both goals - including the match-winner in the 74th minute. He also had two other shots thump the woodwork and has a tournament-best 13 shots on target.
"Now everything is possible," he said. "We really deserved to qualify for the quarterfinals."
Getting there has never been a problem for Portugal, who have reached the knockout round for the fifth consecutive European Championship and sixth time in as many overall appearances. Ronaldo helped the host Quinas reach the final in 2004, converting a penalty kick in the quarterfinal to help oust England, but failed to score in 2008 in a 3-2 loss to Germany in the round of eight.
He has one goal in eight elimination matches in major tournaments but did convert the decisive penalty in the round of 16 victory over England in the 2006 World Cup.
Cech, who bounced back from a 4-1 group-opening loss to Russia to help the Czechs reach the quarterfinals, is very familiar with Ronaldo's goal-scoring prowess from their Premier League days when Ronaldo played for Manchester United as well as Champions League play. Ronaldo also scored a goal and assisted on another as Portugal posted a 3-1 victory over the Czechs in group play during the 2008 Euros, and the Chelsea goalkeeper knows it will take a team effort to avoid a similar fate.
"I've faced him in many matches and I can use my experience from them, but it is crucial for us to work as a team to succeed," Cech said. "He's a player who works hard to get better and he's got a powerful shot.
"He's dangerous because he is able to shoot with both the right and left foot from any position."
While Cech is the last line of defence, the outfield player on the pitch with the biggest responsibility in containing Ronaldo likely will be right back Theodor Gebre Selassie, who may have to sacrifice some of his forward pushes to neutralise the Portuguese star in the open field on the flank.
"It will be more difficult for us, because he's one of the best players in the world. But you can't expect us to be afraid of the match just because Ronaldo is on the pitch," he said.
The Czechs are in the knockout round for the third time in five Euro appearances and have won their previous two quarterfinal matches, including a 1-0 upset of Portugal in 1996 on Karel Poborsky's "falling leaf" lob over Vitor Baia from just inside the penalty area en route to the finals in their surprising debut. Like 1996, the Narodak advanced to the round of eight despite a negative goal differential, winning a wide-open Group A with a 1-0 victory Saturday that also eliminated co-host Poland.
"We find ourselves in the same situation like in 1996," said Bayer Leverkusen defender Michal Kadlec, whose father captained the Czechs that year. "We have a good reason to think about it."
Petr Jiracek netted Saturday's only goal, and the midfielder will again be relied upon to relieve pressure on his backline since playmaker Tomas Rosicky appears likely to miss a second straight match with an Achilles injury.
Jiracek and Vaclav Pilar have accounted for all four Czech goals in this tournament, while Silvestre Varela, Helder Postiga and Pepe also have scored for Portugal.
Though Rosicky is an injury concern for the Czechs, both sides are expected to otherwise field full-strength lineups since no one accumulated two yellow cards in group play.
Updated June 19, 2012