Euro 2012: 5 Reasons Why Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal Will Take Home the Title
The knockout stages of Euro 2012 kick off today with Group B runners-up, Portugal, doing battle with the Group A victors, Czech Republic.
Portugal's tournament got off to a rocky start with a loss to Germany, but they have since got themselves back on track with consecutive victories over Denmark and the Netherlands.
So can the Portuguese pull off the victory today over the Czech Republic? And if so, how far can they go in Poland and Ukraine?
Here are five reasons they just might be holding up the trophy when all is said and done.
They've Been Improving as the Tournament Has Progressed
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Throughout their three group-stage matches, Portugal showed a marked improvement.
Against Germany, the Portuguese seemed stifled and defensive; of course, the quality of opponent had a lot to do with this. However, they didn't maraud the wings and create as many chances as they are capable of; when they did, they wasted opportunities. In the end, they seemed far too reliant on Cristiano Ronaldo to pull off some magic.
In their match with Denmark, again, they were wasteful in front of net (especially a certain No. 7), but had bigger problems in the back as they let in two fairly simple goals. Still, their overall performance in picking up the victory was a step in the right direction.
Finally, Portugal showed their best potential against the Dutch, as they thoroughly dominated the last 70 minutes of the match and created numerous opportunities. Chances were again wasted, but it was a performance that was leaps and bounds better than their first two.
They Still Have the Best Player in the Tournament...
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His wastefulness against Denmark was a major concern, but he responded with a brace against the Dutch.
Even that match wasn't vintage Ronaldo, as he had many more fine opportunities to find the back of the net, but we all know what Cristiano is capable of.
At any moment, he might just snap into the man who plays for Real Madrid and take this tournament over.
And if not, he still might be good enough to help win this thing.
...But They Don't Rely on Him Too Much Anymore
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What seems to have been lost in Portugal's performances against Denmark and the Netherlands is that they proved that they no longer over-rely on their best player.
In years past, Portugal went as Cristiano Ronaldo went with seemingly no "Plan B."
Now, look at the match with the Danes: CR7 misfires over and over again, and Portugal still tough out a victory.
Even against the Netherlands, where Ronaldo scored both of Portugal's goals, the side showed that they are well rounded. Sure, it was their star who was last to touch the ball on its way into the net, but those goals were set up by fantastic play all across the pitch.
This well-rounded play has caused a huge improvement from past Portugal sides, even from the one that played Germany in the opener.
Their Defense Has Proved Solid
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For the most part, Portugal's defense has proven to be a solid unit.
The likes of Miguel Veloso and Raul Meireles in more defensive midfielder roles has been a great start to the unit.
One would be hard-pressed to find a more intimidating central pairing than Pepe and Bruno Alves.
Even the full-backs, Fabio Coentrao and Joao Pereira, have been key.
There have been some lapses throughout the first three matches, but those mistakes can be easily fixed with a bit of focus.
This lot have a potential to stymie their opposition all the way to the title.
The Favorites Are Not at Their Best
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The two pre-tournament favorites, Germany and Spain, have not played up to their full potential in their first three matches.
While some may see this as a good sign, as both still waltzed through the group stages, I don't see much evidence of improvement.
Germany's best match was probably their first against Portugal, while they're last with Denmark was notably mediocre.
Spain seem to be missing David Villa and would probably have had two ho-hum draws had the situation not dictated Croatia to go for the win.
At any moment, either of these two sides can conjure up their best football and leave their opposition in the dust.
But with the way they're playing, is that necessarily going to happen?
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