Ruthless Ronaldo's hat-trick sends Portugal through to final
The greatest players have a habit of showing up in the biggest games when their teams need them the most - and that is what Cristiano Ronaldo did yet again on Wednesday evening. Portugal huffed and puffed, but couldn't find their way past a plucky and dangerous Switzerland team. Step forward, Mr Ronaldo.
For an astonishing 53rd time in his professional career, Ronaldo scored a hat-trick that was enough to take his side through to face the winner of England and the Netherlands in the showpiece on Sunday, and that was also enough to take the headlines away from referee Felix Brych after a crazy couple of minutes of VAR controversy.
Sure enough, it was Ronaldo who opened the scoring in the 25th minute with yet another moment of individual brilliance. In reality, it had been Switzerland who had started as the stronger side, but their failure to capitalise on a sequence of early pressure was punished as the 34 year-old slammed home a dubiously awarded free-kick from 25 yards. His effort wrong-footed Yann Sommer, but in truth it was so powerful that it had flashed by the keeper before he even had time to react.
Switzerland responded well and, spearheaded by the enigmatic Xherdan Shaqiri, almost drew level before half-time as Harris Seferovic clipped the crossbar with an effort from just behind the penalty spot. However, they would have to wait until ten minutes after the break for another chance to equalise in what were a hectic few minutes at the Estádio do Dragão.
Shaqiri was again involved as he curled an inch-perfect cross into Seferovic, who hit the turf after his feet tangled with Nelson Semedo as the Portuguese defender desperately tried to get goal-side of his man. Referee Felix Brych originally waved play on, allowing Portugal to counter.
And counter they did: Cristiano Ronaldo dribbled through the box on a mazy run before finding Bernardo Silva, who was then brought down by Fabian Schär. Brych was this time in no doubt and pointed to the spot - penalty to Portugal.
However, after a lengthy VAR review in which the German official watched back footage of the incident involving Seferovic and Semedo, the decision was overturned and a penalty was awarded to Switzerland - much to the bemusement of the partisan home crowd and a distraught Fernando Santos in the Portugal dugout.
Ricardo Rodriguez squeezed the penalty under Rui Patricio to level proceedings, but it was Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal who would have the last laugh.
Just as an open and fiery encounter seemed to be drifting away into extra-time, the Juventus forward decided he had other ideas. Bernardo Silva received the ball in space on the right after a switch of play from Ruben Neves, and his cutback found a lurking Ronaldo on the edge of the area, who fired a powerful first time effort that beat Sommer at the near post to the send the home crowd into raptures.
Ronaldo wasn't done there, however, and secured himself the match ball as Portugal countered a wide-open Switzerland team two minutes later. After receiving the ball on the left side of the box from Gonçalo Guedes, the five-time Ballon D'or threw in a couple of trademark stepovers before cutting inside and curling an accurate finish into the far corner to secure his nation's place in the final.
We seem to be running out of superlatives for his performances, but Ronaldo has only cemented his legend further with another iconic and heroic performance tonight in front of his expectant home fans.