Portugal 1-0 Czech Republic
A result that was long in the coming, and well deserved.
A very tentative first half played in a drab atmosphere. Neither side seemed willing to really open up and risk too much, a common problem with the knock-out stages of any tournament. Neither of these two sides was tipped to go this far at the start of Euro 2012, and neither looked like they wanted to presume too much and go for goals. Baros was isolated upfront for the Czech’s, who made much of the early running but failed to really make a decent opportunity in the opening 45.
For Portugal, it was the same problem of over-reliance on Ronaldo, who had a temper-tantrum filled game, which will not endear the neutrals (or locals) to them. The Portuguese squad does have the look of a team that are not entirely comfortable with one another, or with the spotlight centred on their star man. Ronaldo is not the be all and end all of this team – Nani, Pepe, Postiga are all workhorse and bring a lot of talent with them – but everything that Portugal does in the offence tends to revolve around Ronaldo as the creator or the finisher (or both). He failed to be that person in the first half, though he was coming close. The Czech’s had the better of the first half in terms of setting the tempo, but it was Portugal who looked the more likely to score when they got into the danger area.
The first half saw this continue, but with the Czech’s falling off the pace badly, not to the extent of Poland in the last game the Czech’s played, but bad enough. The stand-offish and lackadaisical approach the Czech’s had in the second had an air of purposefulness about it, like a counter-attacking tactic that never really got o the counter-attack. Playing for extra-time was a risky move for the Czech’s to make, if that was the intention.
Portugal took the initiative that was there and pressed on, and the goal became an inevitability after numerous players went close. Cech kept his nation in the game with a series of fingertip saves, but he could do nothing about Ronaldo’s third goal of the tournament, a wonderful cross met by a powerful downwards header, hit exactly as Ronaldo would have wanted. Deceptively sublime, the exact kind of header that is hardest for any goalie to judge or save. He was able to drift into the Czech box like he was a ghost, and it was a just reward for the Portuguese pressure.
The Czech’s were reeling and never really got their act together in the last ten minutes, persistently fouling and losing possession. The game had a bit of an edge to it alright, but Howard Webb out in one of his better days at the office. Portugal saw the game off in a straightforward manner.
Portugal go on to face either Spain or France, neither of which I would fancy them against. This was not the best test of Portugal’s ability, especially at the back, and they will get that test in the semi-final whether it is France or an Iberian derby – the same fixture they lost in South Africa. The Czech’s head home having achieved a remarkable come back to get to the knock-out stages, and can probably be satisfied with their lot in this tournament overall, though they may rue a lack of urgency and drive in this game.