Epic penalties drama for Ronaldo ends with Portugal besting Slovenia in Euro 2024 shootout

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At a glance


    FRANKFURT (AP) — No one does high drama in international soccer to such an operatic extent as Cristiano Ronaldo.

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    Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo reacts during a round of sixteen match between Portugal and Slovenia at the Euro 2024 soccer tournament in Frankfurt, Germany, Monday, July 1. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

    Portugal is heading to a blockbuster quarterfinal with France at the European Championship after its star captain generated compelling viewing on center stage of the victory over Slovenia on Monday, July 1.

    Winning a penalty shootout 3-0 after a 0-0 game against the 57th-ranked team in world soccer might not sound much.

    But there were tears, lots of them, from Ronaldo; an apology in prayer-form to his fans, who responded with adulation; extravagant arm gestures of anger, frustration and exasperation; chances wasted and denied to make more tournament history; a renewed duel with an old rival goalkeeper; and ultimately redemption and victory.

    Ronaldo’s mother was in the stadium and TV pictures showed her crying, too, after he missed his penalty.

    “Sometimes it’s hard and difficult to score penalties,” Ronaldo told Portuguese broadcaster RTP after the match, getting emotional again. “I’ve scored more than 200 penalties in my career. Sometimes it’s a mess.”

    Still, the last act of Monday’s show gave Portugal what it needed.

    “We showed the enthusiasm that we still have to play, to have fun, to give joy to the fans and that’s it, this is our life,” he said after it was all over, close to midnight in Frankfurt.

    The 39-year-old Ronaldo went into the game without a goal at Euro 2024.

    The moment when he surely had to become the oldest player ever to score at a Euros finals tournament came in the first period of extra time, the 105th minute, after missing five or six of the kind of chances he has thrived on now for 20 years at this level.

    Portugal had been awarded a penalty kick and Ronaldo stepped up to take what could have been the decisive goal.

    Instead, Slovenia goalkeeper Jan Oblak, a long-time adversary from their time playing Spanish league soccer in Madrid, dived left to push aside the well-struck shot against a post and away to safety.

    Tears welled in Ronaldo’s eyes and soon flowed during the break before the second period of extra time began. Teammates consoled him, kissed his forehead and urged him to keep going.

    Extra time also finished 0-0 and when the penalty shootout started, Slovenia’s first kick was saved by Portugal goalkeeper Diogo Costa.

    Up stepped Ronaldo, facing a massed stand of about 10,000 Portugal fans. He placed it perfectly low beyond Oblak diving to his right.

    Ronaldo looked apologetically to the fans and put his hands together as if in prayer. The fans responded with a bellowing and forgiving shout of “Siuuuu” — their soccer icon’s trademark goal scream.

    “I was certain that he had to be the first penalty taker and show us the way to victory,” Portugal coach Roberto Martinez said. “Life gives you difficult moments and the way he reacted makes us very proud.”

    Costa answered the rest of those fans’ prayers with as good a penalty shootout as any goalkeeper could have.

    He saved all three of Slovenia’s kicks from Josip Ilicic, Jure Balkovec and Benjamin Verbič. Then he was in tears, too.

    Bruno Fernandes and Bernardo Silva also scored for Portugal to seal the shootout 3-0 with two kicks to spare.

    “I was sad and now I’m overjoyed. This is what football gives you,” Ronaldo said in translated comments in a post-game interview. “You cannot explain it.”

    Portugal will face France in the quarterfinals on Friday in Hamburg, a rematch of the 2016 final that Portugal won in Paris after Ronaldo went off injured early.

    “We all know that Cris is the hardest worker. I understand how frustrated he is,” Costa said. “For me, it’s an honor to play on the same team.”

    The personal duel between Ronaldo and Oblak had been memorable merely in regulation time.

    It was an intensely frustrating first 90 minutes for Ronaldo with three free kicks, two mistimed jumps for headers and a golden chance to score with his first clear shot in open play.

    That was in the 89th, when he ran clear on goal with the ball passed perfectly into his stride. The left-foot shot was low and powerful but Oblak’s block was better.

    The best of Ronaldo’s free kicks was a powerful line drive right at Oblak in the 55th that the tall goalkeeper squatted to push away with strong hands.

    The intense drama for the Portugal superstar almost overwhelmed the troubled evening for Slovenia’s emerging star.

    Benjamin Šeško had chances to win the game, in the 62nd and 115th minutes, going one-on-one with Costa after racing past 41-year-old defender Pepe.

    The first was a weak shot that screwed wide, and the second was powerful and accurate but saved by the goalkeeper’s outstretched boot.

    So it went penalties. Just as it had in the Euro 2012 semifinals, when Spain beat Portugal before Ronaldo — as the fifth scheduled taker — even had the chance to step up.

    Just as it had when Ronaldo’s Real Madrid and Oblak’s Atletico Madrid met in the 2016 Champions League final. Back then, Ronaldo placed the fifth and decisive spot-kick past Oblak to win the title.

    Portugal is still competing to win back the European title it also won in 2016, at the expense of an admirable Slovenia squad that was effectively unbeaten after drawing all four of its games at Euro 2024.

    “His emotions show respect for Slovenia,” coach Matjaž Kek said of Ronaldo, “and that is what I am content with.”