Sunday, January 21, 2018
Sports

Ronaldo, Portugal beat Wales in Euro semifinal

LYON, France — Cristiano Ronaldo led Portugal into the final of Euro 2016 with a 2-0 victory over Wales on Wednesday, the Real Madrid forward scoring the opening goal and creating the second to kill off Welsh hopes of an upset.

The goals came within three minutes of one another early in the second half, after Wales had the better of the opening period.

Portugal now prepares for a final against France or Germany on Sunday.

The host, France, and the world champion, Germany, meet today in Marseille in the second semifinal (3 p.m., ESPN), and while Portugal did not look like a team that should threaten either of them, the presence of Ronaldo will prevent overconfidence.

Wednesday's game had been billed as a ''Battle of the Galacticos (superstars)'' between the two Real Madrid stars, Ronaldo and Wales attacker Gareth Bale. While Bale was the busier of the two, it was his senior partner in Madrid who delivered. "I've always said my dream was to win a trophy with Portugal," Ronaldo said. "We're closer to doing it, and I believe that we'll win."

Portugal last competed in a final at Euro 2004, when the team surprisingly lost on home soil to Greece. A 19-year-old Ronaldo cried after that match. Now he has led a much weaker side to another international showpiece.

"Portugal are not just about Cristiano Ronaldo, we are a team," Ronaldo, 31, said. "But I was able to score and I've helped the team get to the final."

Ronaldo equaled France great Michel Platini's record of nine goals in European Championship soccer when he timed an NBA-like leap to perfection and planted home a header in the 50th minute. The three-time world player of the year then sent in a long-range shot that Nani, finding space between defenders, diverted into the net on the slide. "He is a natural goal-scorer, and he scored yet again," Bale said of Ronaldo. "We're disappointed, but we'll pick ourselves up."

Meanwhile, Portugal — defying pre-tournament expectations — is heading to Saint-Denis as Ronaldo chases an elusive international title.

"We had difficult moments," Ronaldo said, "but it's like I always say, it's better to start poorly and have a positive ending. The dream is still alive."

GERMANY-FRANCE: Germany coach Joachim Loew said midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger will start today in Marseille. Schweinsteiger had been in doubt with a strained ligament in his right knee sustained Saturday against Italy. Germany midfielder Sami Khedira (left groin) and forward Mario Gomez (torn muscle in right thigh) are both out, and center-back Mats Hummels is suspended. Germany is bidding for its fourth European title and its first since 1996. "France didn't reach the semifinal through luck, but because they have a lot of class,'' Germany forward Thomas Mueller said. "We have respect, but I'm always optimistic that we'll find solutions, even when we have absences. France-Germany, they were two of the favorites already beforehand. And now they meet in the semifinal. You don't have many better football games."

MESSI FINED BUT NO JAIL TIME: A Barcelona court sentenced Argentine star Lionel Messi and his father, Jorge Horacio Messi, to 21 months in prison for tax fraud, but they'll both avoid jail time. Under Spanish law, sentences of less than two years are suspended and served under probation. Messi, 29, and his father, who denied any wrongdoing during a four-day trial in June, were found guilty of three counts of defrauding the Spanish tax department of $4.6 million. Prosecutors claimed Messi and his father used shell companies in countries such as Belize, Uruguay and Switzerland to avoid taxes on earnings from image rights from 2007-09. The court fined both of them a total of about $3.9 million.

ORLANDO CITY FIRES COACH: Orlando City fired coach Adrian Heath, who has been with the club since it began in 2008 in Austin, Texas. The team said in a statement it had "agreed to amicably part ways" with Heath and assistant head coach Mark Watson. Heath, 55, began as coach of the Austin Aztex and moved with the franchise to Orlando in 2011. He won two USL championships and three USL regular-season titles before the club moved to Major League Soccer. Orlando is 4-4-8 and in seventh place in the 10-team Eastern Conference.

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