The Czech Republic kick off the quarter-finals of Euro 2012 on Thursday with a tricky tie against Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal, and it is a game they must believe they can win if they are to succeed.
Many who watched the Czechs’ dismal opening match performance against Russia had written them off for qualification from the group, but with two successive wins they not only qualified, but finished top of the standings. They needed a win against Poland in their final group game on Saturday night to guarantee qualification, and a mixture of great defending and equally impressive counter-attacking brought them the victory they required. The Czechs controlled the match for the most part, as Poland’s early exuberance faded in the latter stages, leaving midfielder Petr Jiracek to grab the only goal of the game to send the Czech’s through and Poland out.
The Czech Republic’s captain and key man Tomas Rosicky had missed the game against Poland due to a persistent Achilles problem, and the niggle is still with him as he faces a late fitness test before the match against Portugal. Having Rosicky in the team will be vital in attacking terms, but it was the defensive players of Czech Republic that shone against Poland, and they will need to be at their best once more if they are to defeat Portugal. Michal Kadlec and Tomas Sivok provided a brick wall in defence for the Czechs, limiting star striker Robert Lewandowski to only a handful of touches throughout the game.
Lewandowski scored 22 league goals last season in the Bundesliga, but on Thursday the Czechs will face a player that scored more than double that amount in a league many believe to be the best in the world, Spain’s La Liga. Cristiano Ronaldo put in a terrific performance against the Netherlands, scoring a brace to send his country through to the quarter-finals. The Czech Republic will have to come up with a plan to stop the wing wizard if they are to defeat Portugal, but even if their plans succeed Portugal have a team superior to the Czechs in every area of the pitch.
Portugal are expected to win quite comfortably, but the Czechs are undefeated in every quarter-final they have played at the European Championships to date, and they must believe that history can repeat itself in their next fixture. Coach Michal Bilek must set up his team to contain the attacking threats that the Portuguese have in Luis Nani and Ronaldo, but must not sit back too much as inviting pressure from players of this class will only provide one winner.
Jiracek has been one of the stars of the tournament for the Czechs, and with captain Rosicky looking like he may win his battle to be fit in time, the Czech Republic can hope to provide an effective counter-attack that can see them through to the final four in the tournament.
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