With the group stages of the Euros over we now head into the business end of the tournament, and apart from a couple of surprises it is the usual suspects who are fighting for spots in this year’s semi-finals.
The first quarter-final game will kick-off in Warsaw, on Thursday at 2:45pm EDT, and sees Portugal and the Czech Republic once again matched up—having previously played against one another in the 1996 and 2008 European Championships.
The Czechs famously beat Portugal’s much fancied “golden generation” of Luis Figo, Rui Costa and Fernando Couto 1-0 in the quarters back in 1996, thanks to a sublime scoop lob by Karel Poborský, and will be hoping for a similar result once again. But the Portuguese will be hoping they can repeat their performance at the last Euros, where they easily dispatched of the Czechs winning 3-1 during the group stages.
It was hard to envisage the Czech Republic would be in the quarter-finals after their humiliating 4-1 defeat by Russia in their opening game. But wins against Greece and Poland meant that the Czechs not only qualified for the quarters, but also topped the group.
Portugal also had the odds stacked against them after losing their opener to Germany 1-0. But a last gasped 3-2 win over Denmark, and a Ronaldo inspired win over the Dutch has seen Portugal make it out of the group of death.
The Czechs have never lost a quarterfinal clash in the Euros—winning on their last two previous occasions in 1996 and 2004—and will be hoping to continue that streak. The Portuguese will be playing in their 5th quarterfinals, and will be hoping they can make it past the quarters this time around, having lost at the same stage to Germany 3-2 at the last Euros.
All eyes will be on Ronaldo during Thursday’s quarter-final clash. In the past the Real Madrid star has been criticized—unfairly at times—for not performing on the international circuit, especially at the major tournaments. And after a quiet game against the Germans and a series of misses against Denmark, people were once again talking about how Ronaldo always shrinks on the international stage.
But in Portugal’s pivotal game against Holland, Ronaldo proved why he is considered by many to be the best player in the world. He not only scored Portugal’s two goals, but was at the heart of all their attacking play, and looked a real threat every time he received the ball.
In fact the statistic below appear to show, Ronaldo is growing in confidence and beginning to hit the type of form that has made him so potent at club level.
• Ronaldo had 12 shots on goal – the most by any player in a single game since Euro 1980
• Seven of Ronaldo’s shots came from outside the area – he scored with two from inside the area
• Ronaldo’s time in possession of the ball has increased over the three group games (v Germany 49 seconds; v Denmark 1:01 & v Netherlands 1:29)
• Ronaldo had the joint-best percentage of successful passes in the Portugal side (79%), along with Joao Moutinho and Nani
The Czechs look certain to be without their captain and play-maker Tomas Rosicky who picked up an achilles injury in the 2-1 over Greece, and they will definitely miss the Arsenal midfielder, as he is by far their most skillful player. However, all of the Czech Republic’s goals in the competition so far have come from midfielders Vaclav Pilar and Petr Jiracek, and they seem certain to remain with the tactics of employing five in midfield and one upfront.
Except for Tomas Rosicky, both teams are expected to name unchanged teams, and if the games so far during this year’s Euros are anything to go by it should be a thrilling game.
So can Ronaldo perform some “Real” magic for Portugal, or will the Czechs maintain their 100% quarter-final record? We will have to wait until Thursday to find out.
• Since the “velvet divorce” with Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Portugal have only met twice – Czech Republic winning 1-0 in the quarter-finals of Euro 96, and Portugal winnig 3-1 in the group stage of Euro 2008.
• Czech Republic/Czechoslovakia and Portugal have met 12 times, winning four times each.
• The Czechs are only the second side to top a European Championship group despite conceding five goals (after Spain in 2000).
• The Czechs also qualified from the group stage with a negative goal difference in 1996 – when they went on to reach the final.
• Michal Bilek’s side lost their first match of Euro 2012 (4-1 against Russia). In 1988, the Netherlands became the only country to win the Euros after losing their first group match.
• Having scored only a single goal in their first four matches this year, Portugal have now scored five in two.
• Ronaldo is the first Portuguese player to score at five major tournaments. He also scored at the Euros in 2004 and 2008, and at the 2006 and 2010 World Cups.
• Portugal was the only country during the group stage to use the same starting line-up in each match.