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Portugal And Ronaldo Save Face As Costa’s Shootout Heroics Sink Slovenia

Apology accepted. In fairness, Cristiano Ronaldo simply does not shirk responsibility and by taking and scoring the first penalty in a shootout victory over Slovenia, the Portugal captain made amends for failing to score his spot kick in extra time, which was saved magnificently by Jan Oblak.

In the end it was the Portugal goalkeeper Diogo Costa who was the hero, making three extraordinary saves, the last of which thwarted Benjamin Verbic down to his right. Even Ronaldo seemed a touch remorseful as Slovenia, whose steely resistance was eventually broken in the cruellest of manners, were undone. The more likely penalties became, the twitchier Portugal grew but they will now play France in Hamburg on Friday.

Portugal knew exactly what they were facing. Slovenia beat them 2-0 in a friendly in Ljubljana in March and Bruno Fernandes admitted that defeat left his side wanting to set the record straight. Fernandes clearly had done his homework, highlighting the number of clearances Slovenia had made at the tournament on the eve of the game – only Georgia registered more – and Roberto Martínez stressed the need to stay patient against a low block.

Slovenia had an average of 32% possession during the group stage and, given Portugal had the most at double that figure, this contest always had the makings of a mismatch. The biggest giveaway of the difficulty of the task, though, no matter their aesthetic differences, was that Slovenia arrived here unbeaten in nine matches having not tasted defeat since a qualifying loss to Denmark last November.

Diogo Costa profileBeforehand Fernandes also referenced Oblak, describing the Atlético Madrid goalkeeper as one of the best in the world, and for Portugal the overwhelming anxiety at half-time was the reality that they had failed to work him. Oblak easily held Ronaldo’s weak header, which lost its oomph when it pinballed off the defender Vanja Drkusic, after the half-hour and there were a string of agonising nearly moments. Ronaldo was at the centre of most of them, taking each swing-and-a-miss as a personal insult. The 39-year-old looked towards the heavens in disgust – though the roof at this arena was closed again – after soaring between two white Slovenia shirts in the box but failing to make contact on Vitinha’s scooped cross, as if a deep injustice had just occurred.

Portugal racked up almost twice as many first-half passes as their opponents but Slovenia finished the first period with a punch, Benjamin Sesko sending a stinging shot at Costa a few minutes after Nuno Mendes nipped in to prevent Andraz Sporar from taking aim after Petar Stojanovic stormed down the right flank. João Palhinha hit a post with the final action of the first half but Portugal headed down the tunnel with an uncomfortable sense of what might have been. Ronaldo outjumped Drkusic on four minutes, taking off as if buoyed by Wallace and Gromit’s techno trousers, but still could not reach Bernardo Silva’s first-time cross. Portugal repeated the same move 10 minutes later, Ronaldo rising on the edge of the six-yard box to meet Silva’s teasing ball with the same result. Ronaldo gave Silva a thumbs-up and Martínez applauded.

Cristiano Ronaldo leads his teammates in a round of applause for the Portugal fans after the match. Photograph: Matthias Schräder/APRonaldo boomed a wide free-kick straight out of play, raising his right hand by way of apology, having sent another free-kick zooming over Oblak’s goal after the restored Rafael Leão was upended by Drkusic. Slovenia assembled the draught excluder. The overhead spider-cam surged into position ready for lift-off, supporters pulled out their phones. But Ronaldo’s free-kick, all power, flew over the frame of the goal.

As a white haze from the flares lit by the Slovenia fans behind Oblak’s goal filled the pitch midway through the second half, Martínez recognised the need to change the rhythm of an increasingly painful contest and replaced Vitinha with Diogo Jota. Regardless, the second half took on an identical mould to the first. Aside from João Cancelo twisting and turning inside Timi Max Elsnik and later chopping inside his man to tee up Palhinha, it was one-dimensional; it all felt a bit Ronaldo or bust. Oblak repelled a free-kick leathered at goal by Ronaldo with two hands but, in truth, it was straight at him. Up the other end Sesko gave Pepe a scare, beating him for pace after seizing on a Portugal mix-up on halfway, but the RB Leipzig striker’s shot, a daisy-cutter, pootled wide.

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Slovenia players slump to the turf after losing the shootout. Photograph: Wolfgang Rattay/ReutersA third Ronaldo free-kick came and went, the Portugal captain staring at the ground visibly pained after it sailed over. Then Martínez introduced Francisco Conceição, presumably hoping the 21-year-old would replicate his star turn off the bench in their group stage opener against the Czech Republic, when he popped up with a stoppage-time winner, but extra time ensued. For a split-second it seemed Ronaldo may snatch victory in the 89th minute, but he was left slapping his thighs in frustration after flunking a tame shot at Oblak after Jota threaded him in on goal.

It was nothing compared to the emotions he felt after lifting his head to see his 105th-minute penalty had been pushed on to a post and clear by Oblak, who flew low to his left to make a superb left-handed save. Ronaldo sobbed uncontrollably during the extra-time interval, his teammates taking it in turns to console him. Diogo Dalot grabbed Ronaldo by the neck and shouted some words in his ear. There was nothing worth saying at the end of the shootout.

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