Who’d have though we’d see this match in Euro 2012′s first quarterfinal? Some may have predicted Portugal to escape the Group of Death at the Netherlands’ expense, but almost no one predicted the Czech Republic to make it out of Group A, let alone top the group.
Especially after their 4-1 mauling by Russia, many expected the Czech Republic to finish at the bottom of the weakest group in Group A.
And yet, they’ve defied expectations. The good play of Vaclav Pilar and Petr Jiracek has carried the Czech Republic to victories over Greece and Poland, and the great play of Tomas Hubschman and Jaroslav Plasil has kept the Czech Republic tight in the back and dangerous in attack.
As for Portugal, many expected them to fall flat after an ineffective showing against Germany, but a last-gasp winner against Denmark from Silvestre Varela followed by a virtuoso display from Cristiano Ronaldo earned the team the six points it needed to progress to the knockout stages.
After two disappointing games, Ronaldo finally showed up for Portugal against the Netherlands, looking like his Real Madrid self against one of the former greatest giants of international football.
So what can we expect to see?
Honestly, I can’t see the Czech Republic posing a threat to Portugal. Tomas Rosicky and Milan Baros haven’t shown good form in this tournament, and without them, the Czech Republic has little hope of competing with the best football nations in the world. That isn’t to mention the fact that Rosicky is presently injured, and is unlikely to be fit in time for the Portugal match despite his last-ditch efforts to recover in time for the game.
As for Portugal, they look to finally be getting their game together. Portugal’s success was always going to hinge on Ronaldo, and now that he’s scoring again, Portugal are infinitely more dangerous. They’ve got quality in every position, and even though their talent level isn’t as high as Spain or Germany, they’re not too far behind. Varela’s winner off the bench showed that Portugal have quality they can depend on off the bench as well.
Barring a miracle, I can’t see the Czech Republic exposing defenders like Pepe, Bruno Alves and Fabio Coentrao the way they did the defenders of Greece and Poland. Ronaldo, on the other hand, should continue scoring, and I expect he’ll involve Nani and Postiga in the team’s attacking play as well.
Prediction: Portugal 3, Czech Republic 0