Costa makes 3 saves as Portugal tops Slovenia on penalties, setting up Euro 2024 quarter vs. France

A game of epic personal drama and tears for Cristiano Ronaldo ended with his Portugal making the European Championship quarterfinals after beating Slovenia in a penalty shootout on Monday.

The last-16 game went the distance because Ronaldo’s extra-time spot kick in the 114th minute was saved by Slovenia goalkeeper Jan Oblak — leaving him in tears and consoled by every teammate before restarting play. Regulation and extra time finished 0-0.

When they went to penalties, Ronaldo scored his and Portugal’s first, and teammate Diogo Costa saved all three of Slovenia’s kicks from Josip Ilicic, Jure Balkovec and Benjamin Verbič.

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.

Costa had already made his first save when Ronaldo walked up to take Portugal’s first kick of the shootout, and placed it perfectly low beyond Oblak diving to his right.

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

‘Probably the best game of my life’

Costa answered the rest of those prayers with as good a penalty shootout as any goalkeeper ever had. Then he was in tears, too.

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“This is probably the best game of my life,” Costa said in translated comments. “I focused as hard as I could. I breathed in several times and went with my gut.”

A half-hour earlier, Ronaldo was distraught and crying at halftime in extra time after his penalty was saved by Oblak, diving to his left to push the ball against a post.

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

The personal duel between Ronaldo and Oblak was compelling enough merely in regulation time.

It was an intensely frustrating first 90 for Ronaldo, who was — remarkably — still looking for his first goal at Euro 2024.

After three free kicks and two mistimed headers, the Portugal star seemed sure to score with his first clear shooting chance in open play.

It came 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. Ronaldo held out his arms in exasperation yet again.

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

Benjamin Šeško had golden 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 of goal, and the second was powerful and accurate but saved by the outstretched boot of Costa.

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France advances

Kylian Mbappe and France advanced to the European Championship quarterfinals after Randal Kolo Muani’s deflected shot secured a 1-0 win over Belgium on Monday.

Kolo Muani sent in an effort in the 85th minute that looped up off Belgium defender Jan Vertonghen and over stranded goalkeeper Koen Casteels.

France will play Portugal or Slovenia in the quarterfinals on Friday.

Mbappe, again wearing a mask to protect his broken nose, had five shots but none were on target in a low-quality match between the teams ranked No. 2 (France) and No. 3 (Belgium) who largely cancelled each other out.

The French won ugly but, for coach Didier Deschamps, it was “beautiful.”

“We played a tough game against a great team, it was close,” he said. “Although I think we had a lot more possession and a lot more chances. Kolo is Kolo!

“We have to savor it. We mustn’t underestimate this achievement. We’re in the quarterfinals.”

Randal Kolo Muani, left, scored France’s goal in a 1-0 victory over Belgium in Dusseldorf, Germany, on Monday, that propelled France to the UEFA Euro 2024 quarterfinals. (Carl Recine/Getty Images)

Add a fortunate deflected shot to an own-goal and a penalty — scored by Mbappe — as France’s only goals at Euro 2024.

That will do little to stop the growing dissent of France’s fans who feel more can come from a talented bunch of players headlined by Mbappe, playing on the day he officially became a Real Madrid player.

Mbappe will be playing in his first ever quarterfinal at the European Championship, with France having lost on a penalty shootout to Switzerland in the last 16 at the last tournament in 2021.

It was also a nice moment for Kolo Muani, whose last big moment at a major tournament came when he bore down on goal in the last seconds of extra time in the 2022 World Cup final against Argentina. His shot was saved by Emi Martinez, when a goal would surely have won the title for France.

“I was lucky enough to get my shot on target,” he said of his decisive intervention against Belgium. “It was blocked but it went in. We’re very, very happy and very, very proud.”

Belgium heads home after a fairly miserable Euro 2024, during which the players were jeered loudly by their own fans following a 0-0 draw with Ukraine at the end of the group stage.

Belgium captain Kevin De Bruyne was deployed as a deep-lying midfielder in a bid to help control the game, with the Belgians intent on not leaving it open for France’s quick attackers like Mbappe.

The tactic would have been a masterstroke had Belgium won.

It didnt, and more criticism is likely heading coach Domenico Tedesco’s way.

England’s Bellingham accused of offensive gesture

England star Jude Bellingham is being investigated by UEFA over a potentially offensive gesture made during his team’s win against Slovakia on Sunday. UEFA says it appointed a disciplinary inspector to look at “a potential violation of the basic rules of decent conduct.”

Bellingham seemed to make a gesture with his hand toward his crotch after scoring a stoppage-time equalizing goal before England went on to win 2-1 in extra time. If UEFA charges Bellingham in a disciplinary case he risks being suspended for the quarterfinal against Switzerland on Saturday.

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