If you thought the level of pressure was high during the Euro 2012 group stage, just wait until the knockout games begin and it goes through the roof. Every play has the potential to push a team through to the next round or send them home. It doesn't get any bigger than that.
Let's examine three star players who will be under intense pressure starting in the quarterfinals. They will all play a major role in determining how far their national teams go in one of the biggest tournaments in all of football.
After getting torched for four goals in the Czech Republic opener against Russia, Cech bounced back with back-to-back strong outings to propel the Narodak to the top of Group A. That's exactly what a team needs from its elite goalkeeper.
Nobody knew how much gas Cech would have left in the tank after starring in Chelsea's surprising Champions League title run. Luckily for the Czechs, he's shown no ill effects and should continue to control his box with top-notch efficiency.
He'll have to remain on his toes in the quarterfinals, though. Cristiano Ronaldo leads a potent Portugal offense that will surely keep him busy for all 90 minutes. He'll need to act like a brick wall for the Narodak to pull off the upset.
Speaking of Ronaldo, he silenced the doubters at least for a little while with a two-goal performance against Netherlands to push Portugal into the knockout round. It was a key game for the Real Madrid star, who has a reputation for coming up small in big moments.
That said, his job is far from done. If Portugal wants to advance deep into the tournament, Ronaldo will have to lead the way with a combination of timely goals and slick passes. The offense runs through him and every opponent knows it.
Since the Czech Republic back line has already been exposed once in Euro 2012, it's important for Ronaldo and company to put a lot of pressure on them early to see if they hold up. If not, the flood gates will open and the Seleccao das Quinas will move on.
While Lukas Podolski and Mario Gomez have been stealing the headlines by scoring goals, Ozil's presence is irreplaceable for the German attack. His terrific vision and playmaking ability make him a nightmare to defend.
The 23-year-old rising star was a key reason Real Madrid was able to overcome Barcelona in La Liga. If Germany makes a run to the European Championship, he'll likely play a very important role in that as well. He's truly a special player.
Germany will face off with Greece in the quarterfinals. What the Greeks lack in talent, they make up for in technical ability. They will attempt to slow the pace to keep the game close, so Ozil must lead the German attack into the next round.
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