By Mitch Phillips
MARSEILLE, France (Reuters) – A superb shootout save by Portugal’s Rui Patricio allowed Ricardo Quaresma to be the hero again as his spot kick against Poland sent them into the Euro 2016 semi-finals 5-3 on penalties after a 1-1 finish following extra time on Thursday.
Patricio dived full length to block Jakub Blaszczykowski’s penalty, Poland’s fourth, allowing substitute Quaresma, whose goal late in extra-time beat Croatia in the round of 16, to bang in Portugal’s fifth from the spot.
Two hours earlier striker Robert Lewandowski had put Poland ahead in the second minute only for 18-year-old Renato Sanches to equalise with a superb shot 33 minutes into his first international start for Portugal.
Precious little happened from then on but Portugal, beaten on penalties by Spain in the semi-finals four years ago, will not care as they advance to the last four at the Euros for the fourth time in five tournaments to face either Belgium or Wales.
Poland, who had never won a European Championship match before this tournament and finished bottom of their group on home soil four years ago, will bemoan their early missed opportunities and probably backed themselves in the shootout having got past Switzerland that way in the last round.
They went ahead almost from kickoff when Portugal defender Cedric’s misjudgement allowed a long ball to bounce over his head to Kamil Grosicki. He drove on down the left and squared for Lewandowski to guide the ball in.
It was the striker’s first goal of the tournament and, at one minute, 40 seconds, the second-fastest in European Championship history after Dmitri Kirichenko’s for Russia against Greece after 65 seconds in 2004.
Poland looked the more confident team for the next 20 minutes but Portugal settled and began to make inroads.
Sanches, on his first international start, played a neat 1-2 with Nani and found time to shift the ball onto his left foot at the edge of the box and smash it past Lukasz Fabianski, with the aid of a deflection.
Both sides came out for the second half seemingly under instruction to slow things down and the life bled from the game.
The only really clear chance of the half came in the 85th minute when substitute Joao Moutinho lobbed a clever pass over the top only for Cristiano Ronaldo who, having taken the time to glance at the keeper’s positioning, failed to make any contact on the dropping ball with the goal gaping.
Little changed in the additional 30 minutes, with the near-64,000 crowd drugged into a drowsy-near silence, knowing what was afoot almost from the restart.
Poland had followed the same routine in their last-16 clash with Switzerland and won the shootout and, looking very weary on Thursday, clearly had another in their sights.
This time, however, the gamble backfired as Ronaldo, Sanches, Moutinho and Nani all scored before Quaresma’s coup de grace.
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