Christiano Ronaldo and Portugal Euro title defence has been halted by tournament favourite Belgium as the defending champions fell to a 1-0 defeat in Seville.
Portugal reached the last 16 by finishing third in Group F which included World champions France, Germany and Hungary. Having started the tournament with a 3-0 thrashing of Hungary who ultimately exited the tournament in the group stages, they lost 4-2 to Germany before drawing 2-2 with France that handed them a tough last 16 opponent in Belgium who topped their group with three wins.
The defending champions knew they would have to up their game if they were to have a chance against the Red Devils. In an opening half an hour that produced nothing solid to separate the two sides, it was only Ronaldo’s free-kick in the 25th minute that tested Thibaut Courtois in goal for Belgium.
As the first 45 minutes of action wore on, Meunier went close with a strike that sailed closely over the Portuguese goal. The moment of decision would soon arrive and it came through Thorgan Hazard whose belter beat Rui Patricio and flew into the net with 3 minutes of the first half to play.
Following the recess, both sides pushed for goals and the urgency in the Portuguese team as they searched the all-important equalizer induced rough play into the game. Diogo Jota fired over the bar in the 59th minute and Joao Felix produced a save from Courtois two minutes later as the Portuguese pushed for the leveller. Eden Hazard and his brother Thorgan combined smartly in the Portuguese to create a goal-scoring chance for Romelu Lukaku two minutes after but the Inter Milan goal poacher saw his shot flew wide off the post.
As the game wore on, both sets of players in desperation went in for hard tackles which resulted in three yellow cards in under 10 minutes. Portugal then made several dangerous attempts at finding the solitary goal that would push the match to extra time but luck eluded them in all spheres as Belgium held onto see out the victory and set up a quarter-final date with Italy on Friday.
For Portugal, their title defence has ended even before it could start and Ronaldo would have to also wait for some time before he can eclipse Ali Daei and stand in his own class as the all-time top scorer in the men’s international football. And for the Red Devils, the anxiety and anticipation for their ‘Golden Generation’ to achieve something feasible are now on the course but first, they must surmount the challenge of the recording setting Italians.