Euro 2012: Cristiano Ronaldo's Performance Masks Portugal's Offensive Issues
On Sunday, Portugal defeated the Netherlands 2-1 in Kharkiv, Ukraine to advance to the knockout stage of the European championship for the fifth consecutive tournament.
Altogether, it was an admirable performance from Portugal, who tenaciously rallied after falling behind 1-0 early in the first half. The biggest star of the match was Cristiano Ronaldo, who emerged from the shadows of an awful performance against Denmark in Lviv four days prior.
Ronaldo was simply brilliant; he scorched the Dutch defense with some fantastic runs, which allowed the Real Madrid star to score his first two goals of Euro 2012. At the end of the fixture, Ronaldo hit the inside of the post, denying himself of a deserved hat trick. Earlier in the match, an effort from Ronaldo scrapped off the outside of the post, denying him a chance for a four-goal match.
With his goals, Ronaldo joined some elite company by becoming just the fourth footballer to score goals in three different European championships. The other three players are Nuno Gomes, Hélder Postiga and Jürgen Klinsmann.
Simply put, Cristiano Ronaldo had a night to remember. The brilliance and vision that he displayed may be somewhat overshadowed by a third consecutive loss by the Netherlands, but at the same time, he appeared to finally mature on the international stage. After failing to impress against Germany and Denmark, Ronaldo rightfully was named UEFA's man of the match, along with plenty of international praise.
Portugal now find themselves in a favorable quarterfinal matchup. Though the Czech Republic finished first in Group A, they are by no means convincing. They were thrashed by Russia 4-1, scraped by Greece 2-1 and were fortunate to win 1-0 against Poland.
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On paper, it appears that Portugal should not have a problem advancing into the semifinals, where they will probably face Germany. Portugal have shown us that they are among the top sides in Europe, and Ronaldo is capable of carrying this team to victory against the world's best.
Though Ronaldo was impressive, Portugal as an offensive unit have been disappointing throughout Euro 2012. The Portuguese may have five goals (tied for the most in this championship), but these three group stage matches indicate that work must be done to improve their offensive performance.
Since their first match against Germany, Portugal have watched their possession drop from 44 percent to 38 percent. This drop in possession has not hurt Portugal from creating chances, which is clear considering Portugal are a good counterattacking side.
However, Portugal's efficiency has not improved, despite the increased amount of chances. Between their first and third group stage fixtures, Portugal has doubled its chances from 12 to 24, but their shots off target have tripled from four to 13.
Another concerning feature for Portugal is their low completion percentage. So far in Euro 2012, Portugal has completed 76 percent of their passes. That total decreases to 64 percent in the attacking third. That attacking third has been where 51 percent of Portugal's incomplete passes have occurred.
But probably the most alarming feature of this Portugal squad is their lack of finishing ability. Against Germany, Silvestre Varela rushed his shot, which caused Manuel Neuer to make a fantastic save. If the Porto striker had taken his time and shot the ball with his left foot, Portugal would have tied the match.
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When Portugal faced Denmark, Ronaldo failed to score on a breakaway, along with a miss with the keeper out of position and no Danish players within a shouting distance of the striker. Even when Varela scored the winning goal, he initially whiffed on his initial chance before laying a cool finish into the bottom corner.
And then came the match against the Netherlands. Despite only possessing the ball for 38 percent of the match, Portugal were lethal against a porous Dutch defense. Portugal should have scored at least five goals, but bad luck and some brilliant goalkeeping from Maarten Stekelenburg prevented Os Navegadores from inflating the scoreline.
Portugal should be alarmed from this failure to increase the final score. After all, the Czech Republic did a great job conquering Poland's chances in their final group stage match. Though Poland did have an ineffective midfield, the Czech Republic put pressure onto those players, which led to a Czech offensive and the only goal in the fixture.
The Czechs also have one of the top goalkeepers in Euro 2012 in Petr Cech. Overall, Cech may not have the most impressive stat line (five goals conceded on 12 shots on target), but he was sharp against Poland. Cech was instrumental in Chelsea's run to the Champions League title and can get the best of any nation in this tournament.
The last time that these two sides met was on June 11, 2008, which also was a European championship match. Portugal won that day 3-1, but much has changed since that night in Geneva. A new, more youthful Czech side has come into formation after Nároďák's disappointing early exit from the tournament.
Four years later, the Czechs have only five holdovers from that past squad. Meanwhile, Portugal have maintained many of their earlier features, with players like Ronaldo, Nani and Raul Meireles all still a part of the Os Navegadores squad.
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If the Czechs are successfully able to maintain the game plan that they had against Poland, Portugal will be in for a long day. Though they rely heavily on runs from Ronaldo and Nani down the wings, there could be problems with a Czech defense that has continued to improve throughout Euro 2012.
Portugal must leave their ineffective passing at the door and start to rely more on crosses. After completing just 18 percent of their crosses against Germany, Portugal have completed at least 50 percent of their passes during their final two group stage contests.
Ronaldo will be the major key in the Portuguese lineup for this quarterfinal. But it will be his teammates who decide this match. If they can play a crisp offensive match, they will probably find their way into the semifinals for the first time since 2004.
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