A stunning goal from Thorgan Hazard knocked reigning champions Portugal out of Euro 2020 and earned Belgium a blockbuster quarter-final with Italy.
Hazard’s swerving shot before halftime sealed a 1-0 win for Belgium and settled a scrappy contest in Seville that never really lived up to its billing as the stand-out tie of the last 16.
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But it could prove a statement victory for Belgium, whose chief concern now will be the fitness of Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard, who both hobbled off injured and will undergo scans.
De Bruyne suffered an ankle injury while coach Roberto Martinez said Hazard’s problem was “more of a muscle feeling”.
Cristiano Ronaldo tested Thibaut Courtois with a dipping free-kick in the first half but the 36-year-old neither broke the international goals record nor added to his five for the tournament.
The Juventus superstar was watched in the stands by girlfriend Georgina Rodriguez and son Cristiano Jr, but sadly they didn’t get the result they were after.
The pair flew into Spain for the match as Rodriguez posted a clip on her Instagram stories of the private plane they were taking to get to Seville for kick-off.
Georgina Rodriguez (middle, in the white singlet) didn’t get the result she was hoping for.Source:Getty Images
Ronaldo couldn’t save Portugal this time (Photo by Thanassis Stavrakis – Pool/UEFA via Getty Images)Source:Getty Images
Raphael Guerreiro went closest to a late equaliser when his shot came back off the post, one of 29 shots Portugal had, six of them on target.
But before the late rally, Belgium were the braver, more fluid team and Martinez hailed his side’s fighting spirit to hold on.
“We showed our talent in the first half and in the second half we showed an aspect that wasn’t there two or three years ago,” said Martinez. “This is what a winning team needs.”
For all the superstar names on the pitch, it was Eden Hazard’s less heralded brother Thorgan who proved decisive, the Borussia Dortmund winger who Eden once said had even more talent than him.
“In these games if you have a chance you have to have a go,” Thorgan said. “It went in, with a bit of luck and it was the goal that got us through. It’s a dream for me.”
Portugal, meanwhile, stuck to the defensive approach that served them so well in France five years ago but has perhaps been outgrown by a side that now boasts some of the most creative technicians in the world.
“I think it’s an unfair result but they scored and we didn’t,” said Portugal coach Fernando Santos.
“There are players in tears. We are very sad because the players gave everything.”
Belgium’s ecstasy was Ronaldo’s agony.Source:AFP
Eden Hazard started in Belgium’s front three again after playing 90 minutes against Finland on Tuesday. Portugal’s Diogo Dalot came in at right-back for the injured Nelson Semedo.
Eden Hazard skied an early shot over after a neat exchange with Romelu Lukaku while Diogo Jota skewed wide, slipped in down the left by the impressive Renato Sanches.
Ronaldo cut an isolated figure up front, his every touch booed early on by the Belgian fans, who then cheered when he was robbed of the ball before being bumped to the ground by Thomas Meunier.
The closest Ronaldo came to an all-time record 110th international goal was a dipping free kick from 30 yards which Courtois parried away while at the other end, Lukaku was a more dynamic force.
One scintillating break saw Lukaku tear through Portugal’s midfield and with his shirt being pulled behind him, but he was just lacking the final pass to Hazard.
An untidy game found its moment of clarity in the 42nd minute. It started with Courtois coolly evading Ronaldo’s press before more excellent work from Lukaku allowed De Bruyne to switch left to Thorgan Hazard.
He cut in and ripped a swerving shot that rocketed towards the centre of the goal before swerving right and past Rui Patricio, who was too slow to adjust.
Belgium played with more verve after halftime and looked set to take charge. But De Bruyne’s injury checked their rhythm and Portugal came again, Jota firing over and Joao Felix, on as a substitute, heading into the hands of Courtois.
Tempers flared as a crescendo of collisions incensed the crowd and left Pepe lucky only to be booked after he led into his challenge with his arm.
Portugal finally had to push and in a wild last 10 minutes, Guerreiro went closest to an equaliser, his shot hammering against the post. Belgium did just enough.
This was likely Ronaldo’s last European Championships.Source:AFP
Czech Republic send the Netherlands packing
Earlier the Netherlands saw their run ended as goals from Tomas Holes and Patrik Schick gave the Czech Republic a 2-0 victory in Budapest.
The tie in the Hungarian capital swung on two moments early in the second period that went against Frank de Boer’s side.
Donyell Malen was denied by Tomas Vaclik after bursting through and finding himself with just the Czech goalkeeper to beat and then Netherlands centre-back Matthijs de Ligt was sent off after a VAR review for a deliberate handball.
Holes opened the scoring in the 68th minute and the 28-year-old Slavia Prague midfielder then made the clinching second goal with 10 minutes left, pouncing on a loose ball and breaking through to set up Schick.
It was Schick’s fourth goal of the Euro so far and the Czech Republic, ranked 40th in the world, now go through to a quarter-final against Denmark in Baku next Saturday, July 3.
“We might not be big stars like the Dutch but we showed great team spirit and that is what made the difference,” said Schick.
Denmark secured their place in the last eight with a comprehensive 4-0 win over Wales in Amsterdam before Italy joined them by beating Austria 2-1 in extra time at Wembley.
Meanwhile the inquest will begin in the Netherlands as their first appearance at a major tournament since the 2014 World Cup ends in disappointment after some promising displays in the group phase.
As the 1988 Euro winners head home, De Ligt shouldered responsibility following his sending-off.
“The moment changed the game and I feel responsible. I saw how the guys fought after and I’m proud of it. But I feel bad about the incident,” De Ligt told Dutch public broadcaster NOS.
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