So here we are, the quarter finals, the best eight teams in Europe go head to head; two mouth watering clashes and two which seem, on the face of it, fairly straightforward. Of course, this is football, so no guarantees exist.
Day by day I’ll preview the upcoming match, be sure to check back.
without further ado...
Czech Republic vs. Portugal.
Even though I was in the minority of people backing the Czechs to get through the group stages. ( I even put some money to that effect) I didn’t imagine they would be group winners, I doubt even the most blind Czech fans did. Their reward: facing Portugal, I must say I’ve received better presents.
Story so far:
Everyone will be labelling this as Cristiano versus the Czech Republic, I feel that is a little unfair and I’ll try to stay away from doing that. Portugal have looked a decent side, despite a sluggish start against the Germans. They very much finished that game in the ascendency and were unlucky not to equalise, follow this with a dogged yet wasteful display against Denmark, then against the Netherlands, the closest a 2-1 has ever been to a whitewash, they were very good.
As for the Czech’s journey, they went down 4-1 to a wasteful Russia, despite having some periods of threatening possession, that result should a have been a lot worse if not for the dire finishing of Kerzhakov. They bounced back though, within six minutes against Greece they we’re 2 goals up and essentially had the points. Cech didn’t little to enhance his reputation by gifting a goal to the Greeks but they looked solid. They then played the third game very intelligently. Initially only needing a draw they started by trying to give away as little terriority as possible and upon learning of a Greek goal they didn’t go in all guns blazing, but waited and took their chance well when it came to them.
Ronaldo is a very good footballer, certainly the best European footballer currently in the game. As such it seems Bento has just said, “I’ll start you on the left, but just go out and win the game for me.” Although I agree with giving Ronaldo a “free role” doing this at the expense of a left sided midfielder is risky, especially when the left-back is Coentrao, a man no stranger to bombing on. Every goal Portugal have conceded has come from down their left. The German and two Danish crosses and the Robben dart which lead to their goal. Ronaldo’s shirking of defensive responsibilities allows them to double up. This I see as the key area, as for me one of the Czech’s best players has been the adventurous right-back, Gebre Selassie. If Coentrao is able to cope with him and Jiracek then I see Portugal having enough to win.
Portugal, of course Ronaldo is a given, if he shows up this could get embarrassing for Czech Republic, it wouldn’t be very interesting to say him so i’ll give a number two (also ruling out Coentrao who I’ve already mentioned). So, my deputy key man will be Luis Nani, there are fewer player who blow hot and cold as often as Nani. However, as much as Ronaldo can pick up the ball deep and hit if from 30 yards, the majority of his chances come from being played in behind the defence, the man with the best final ball in this side is probably Nani or Meireles, I’m giving the nod to Nani as he can also provide a bit of magic himself or provide crosses for Postiga up-front.
Czech Republic, no apologies for going for the obvious here: Tomas Rosicky. The Arsenal man missed the Poland clash but has returned to training today. He is their most talented individual and helps to control the play and is deployed as a number 10 style playmaker, a position he thrives in (rather than the slightly more water-carrier role he is usually given at Arsenal.) If he is allowed time on the ball, he will create chances. Brief mention must go to Petr Cech, he has to have a big game if his nation are to progress, the Chelsea number one must cut out the mistakes and soft goals he has been prone to concede in this tournament.
It would take a brave man to bet against Portugal here, and I’m not that man. I don’t think there will be much in it, but the combined factors of a solid Portuguese defence, hard-working midfield in addition to two very talented wide men in Nani and Ronaldo should carry them over the line. Postiga looks out of place at times but the option of super-sub Nelson Oliveira should mean even if this game is tight Portugal have the options to mix-it up.
As for The Czechs, the creative midfield three of Rosicky, Pilar and Jiracek certainly have goals in them, unfortunately they are servicing a rather lacklustre Baros, who looks devoid of ideas and hasn’t been making any intelligent runs thus far. Hubschmann provides a solid anchor in midfield, he really has made a difference since coming into the side after the Russia game, additionally they look safer with Kadlec in the centre of defence.
Portugal like to play reactively, hitting teams on the counter attack, so expect the Czech midfield to see much of the ball but ultimately not quite having enough to break down the defence and Portugal’s game plan paying off.