It was “ugly”, “unfair” and “cruel” but Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Robert Lewandowski got through to the Euro 2016 quarter-finals and that is all that Portugal, Wales and Poland care about.
Ricardo Quaresma’s header after skipper Ronaldo’s shot was deflected with extra time running out saw Portugal defeat Croatia 1-0 and set up a last eight clash against Poland.
Bayern Munich star Lewandowski again failed to score but Poland beat Switzerland 5-4 in a penalty shootout after they were deadlocked 1-1 at 120 minutes.
Wales’s Bale hit the 75th-minute pinpoint cross that Northern Ireland’s Gareth McAuley turned into his own net in the only goal of their game Saturday. Wales now play the winner of Sunday’s game between Hungary and Belgium.
Bale, the tournament’s joint leading scorer with Alvaro Morata of Spain on three goals, was brutally honest after the Parc des Princes game in Paris. It does not matter how you win.
Northern Ireland closed down Bale for so long. But Wales have reached the last eight of a major tournament for the first time since the 1958 World Cup.
“What can I say? We knew it was going to be an ugly match,” Bale said.
“Northern Ireland made it difficult to play. There was not much space up front. You can’t ask for any more. It’s incredible.”
Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill said his team deserved more after keeping Bale in check for so long.
“I felt it was a very tight game and I felt we had the better of it to be honest,” said O’Neill. “It was a very, very cruel was to lose the game. I didn’t think we deserved to lose.”
In Lens, a Croatia team—led by another Real Madrid star Luka Modric—that has played some of the most attractive football of the finals failed to find a way past the Portuguese defence.
Ronaldo was muzzled for the vast majority of a dull encounter that became the first match in Euro history in which neither team managed a shot on target during the regulation 90 minutes.
Domagoj Vida had a golden chance to settle the game for Croatia, but headed wide after Portuguese goalkeeper Rui Patricio failed to collect a corner.
Patricio saved his country seconds later when he turned Ivan Perisic’s header onto the post.