LENS, France: It was “ugly”, “unfair” and “cruel” but Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Robert Lewandowski got through to the Euro 2016 quarterfinals 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.
Portugal then snatched their first victory of the tournament at the death as Quaresma was perfectly positioned to head in after Ronaldo’s low shot was parried away by goalkeeper Danijel Subasic.
He did name Ronaldo’s team, however, as favourites to reach the July 10 final in Paris.
First, however, Portugal must beat Poland who reached the European Championship quarterfinals for the first time after conceding probably the best goal of the tournament so far, a spectacular scissors kick by Xherdan Shaqiri.
With Lewandowski drawing another Euro blank at Saint-Etienne’s Stade Geoffrey Guichard, Jakub Blaszczykowski scored the crucial opening goal for Poland but Switzerland drew level in spectacular style through Shaqiri.
The match went to a penalty shootout but Arsenal-bound Granit Xhaka’s wild and wide spot-kick cost the Swiss dear. The Poles went a perfect five from five from the spot.
France’s clash with the Republic of Ireland on Sunday, which evokes memories of Thierry Henry’s infamous handball in a 2009 World Cup playoff, was given further edge with a row over tickets.
Ireland coach Martin O’Neill is angry because Irish fans received just 4,500 tickets for the match in the 59,000-capacity Stade de Lyon.