Sport » Championships
Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov

Cristiano Ronaldo's sadness makes Michael Ballack dance

After it was all over, Michael Ballack was dancing on the field, being serenaded by thousands of German fans. Cristiano Ronaldo, however, had already beaten a quick retreat into the bowels of the stadium, head hanging low.

After running riot through the tournament with nifty moves and flashy combination, the Portugal winger had no answer Thursday when faced with the solid, unyielding Germans. In the end, three-time champion Germany reached the European Championship semifinals by beating Portugal 3-2.

Ballack scored. Ronaldo did not. Ballack was all over the field, guiding his team. Ronaldo too often was all over the place.

"I did my best," the Manchester United forward said.

But it wasn't enough. For all their spectacular play, Portugal is out ahead of the semifinals in a major tournament for the first time since 2002 with a 2-2 record. Germany, despite all the criticism of poor play, is 3-1 and heading to its first European semifinal in 12 years.

Besides the inspirational Ballack, credit Bastian Schweinsteiger. The Bayern Munich midfielder scored one goal with lightning pace and set up two more with pin-point free kicks for winning headers.

"Today you saw what the Mannschaft is made of," said Ballack, who delivered the deciding blow by scoring the third goal in the 61st minute, shoving away Paulo Ferreira and heading past an out-of-position Ricardo.

Miroslav Klose also scored for Germany, while Nuno Gomes and Helder Postiga had goals for Portugal.

Now, the Germans will play the winner of Friday's quarterfinal match between Turkey and Croatia.

The Germans started the upset with a move in the best Portuguese tradition. Lukas Podolski set up a couple of short passing combinations and sped off much like Ronaldo would do. In the center, Schweinsteiger beat Ferreira for pace, and given the perfect low cross, slotted it past Ricardo for the opener in the 22nd.

"Up to now, we lacked a bit of creativity. That is why we changed today and that was the key," Ballack said. "Now, you saw what this team has when it can play freely."

The Portuguese were surprised at such light-footed creativity from the Germans and before they knew it, they were down 2-0. Schweinsteiger swung in a free kick from near midfield, and Ronaldo remained flat-footed while Klose sped by him and powerfully knocked the ball past Ricardo.

"There is always something left. Everything is possible in football," Schweinsteiger said. "We can battle."

The sterling performance from Schweinsteiger was a perfect comeback for the peroxide-dyed midfielder after he had been sent off for a petulant shove on an opponent in Germany's 2-1 loss to Croatia.

"We cannot allow two goals from set pieces against a team like Germany. That made the difference," said Postiga, who had brought Portugal close with a header in the 87th minute.

Portugal coach Luiz Felipe Scolari criticized referee Peter Frojdfeldt for allowing Ballack's goal.

"We made some mistakes in the first two goals, but I can contest the third and television can show it clearly," he said, complaining about Ballack's muscular intervention.

Germany prevailed even though coach Joachim Loew was banned from the game by UEFA after getting sent to the stands during the final group game, a 1-0 win over Austria. In the final minutes Thursday, Loew was lighting cigarettes in the skybox, and once the match was over, all the players came over to wave and point to him.

"We played for the coach," Schweinsteiger said.

They could have used his help when they were up 2-0, but Loew was sitting high in the stands, unable to influence his players. Instead of keeping up the defensive pressure, they fell back, a perilous choice against Ronaldo and Co.

The Manchester United forward finally found the tall Per Mertesacker wanting in the 40th minute, zoomed and rifled a shot at Lehmann. The goalkeeper could only deflect it in the path of Nuno Gomes and the captain brought Portugal back within striking distance before halftime.

The first half brought the strange spectacle where the best No. 7 was not Ronaldo but Schweinsteiger. The best midfielder was not Ballack but Deco.

And the capacity 39,374-crowd at St. Jakob Park was overwhelmingly German, after Portuguese fans dominated the first round.

Ronaldo, touted as the greatest to roam the Euro 2008 fields, was held in a tight zone defense that found him increasingly frustrated. Time and again, he threw up his hands in frustration at a perceived foul not whistled or a pass that went too long.

If need be, the Germans were rough on him.

"We had the wingers under control. We made the central stable," said assistant coach Hansi Flick, who worked the game in Loew's place.

Portugal pushed forward ever more, and when Germany was forced to commit two yellow-card fouls in the first five minutes it started to look bleak. Deco was only marginally offside when was in scoring position in the 51st, and Pepe headed just over in a goalmouth scramble minutes later.

Germany's' renowned steely resolve seemed to weaken to the point of collapse. At that point, Ballack brought deliverance.

Looking at a two-goal hole with half an hour to go, the Portuguese got disheartened. Even Ronaldo sent a free kick sky high, and Lehmann, not good enough for Arsenal, started making diving saves.

Over the game, Portugal outshot Germany two-to-one, but even with Scolari gesticulating wildly on the sidelines, it was impossible to get any fluency to their moves.

In the final minutes, Ballack was wrestling for the ball with Ronaldo in the penalty area. Ballack won. After losing the Premier League title and the Champions League, he prevailed on a great night for Germany.

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