Euro 2012: Czech Republic vs. Portugal - Live on BBC 1
Cristiano Ronaldo needs to be on top of his game in order for give his country the best possible chance of going through to the semis.
Thursday evening sees the first quarter-final clash of Euro 2012 take place in Warsaw. It will be a match contested by Group A winners the Czech Republic and Group B runners-up Portugal, with the winner to face either France or Spain in the semi-final. Im going to take look at each teams journey to the quarter-final, main men, team tactics and the likely outcome of what promises to be a lively encounter. Journey so far:The Czech Republic made it through qualifying via the play offs after finishing as runners up to reigning European champions Spain. They were drawn to play Montenegro in the play offs, and the Czechs duly dispatched them with a 2-0 win in Prague and a 1-0 victory in Montenegro. They were then drawn to be in a group with co-hosts Poland, 2004 champions Greece and a strong Russia team who topped their group in qualifying. The Czechs endured a tough start to Euro 2012 with a major setback to their competition hopes coming in the form of a 4-1 drubbing by Russia. They were outclassed on the night, but were eager to bounce back against next opponents Greece, which they did. They had a perfect start to the Greece game and found themselves 2-0 up within 6 minutes. They managed to hold on to the lead despite a howler by Petr ech and went into their last game with their fate in their own hands. The final game against Poland saw the Czechs show discipline and defensive strength to battle out a 1-0 win without their injured captain Tomáš Rosicky. They progressed from thir group as winners on 6 points to face Portugal in the knockout stage. Portugal also qualified to the Euros through the play-offs after they finished runners-up to Denmark. Their fate was decided on the final day of qualifiers in their last game against Denmark, when a stunning late free-kick by Cristiano Ronaldo wasnt enough to stop them succumbing to a 2-1 loss. They then played Bosnia in the play-off game, and thrashed them 6-2 in Lisbon after a 0-0 draw in Bosnia to make it to the group stage of Euro 2012. The Portuguese endured a tough encounter in their opening game against Germany, and lost 1-0 to a Mario Gomez goal. The German team proved too good for them as they were overrun in midfield and didnt create enough chances. They bounced back against qualifying foes Denmark in their next game though, and came back to win 3-2 thanks to a thunderous late finish from Silvestre Varela. They went into their final game knowing that they needed a win against an under-par Dutch team in order to go through. After going behind in the opening minutes to a beautiful swerving shot by Rafael van Der Vaart, they again showed spirit to win the game 2-1 after a clinical brace by captain Cristiano Ronaldo. Key Players: The main man for the Czech Republic in the game against Portugal will be Václav Pila. Pila has had a successful season at club level, playing in the Champions League against AC Milan and Barcelona with Viktoria Plze and looks as if hes carried his form into the Euros. The diminutive left-winger has been a constant threat for the Czechs and is a key factor in their progression in the competition thus far. Pila recently joined Bundesliga outfit Wolfsburg from Viktoria Plze for a fee of less than 1 million euros; and as the competition has gone on; its become clear how shrewd this move was on the part of Wolfsburg. Pila provides a burst of pace and creativity coming in from the left wing. He has contributed half of the Czech Republics goals in the competition so far and doesnt quite look like hes done yet. The 23-year-olds attacking exploits have grabbed headlines back in the Czech Republic; and a weight of expectation is now on him to perform. He will be expected to create opportunities for the team and provide frontman Milan Baroš with adequate service. Portugal must be wary of this mercurial winger and must try to shut him down at all costs or expect to be punished. Portugals key player needs no introduction: Cristiano Ronaldo is considered by many to be among the games best ever players; he was the top scorer for his country in qualifying with 7 goals, and is their top scorer in the competition so far with the 2 he scored against Holland. The Real Madrid hitman has scored over 60 goals for his club and country this season alone which makes him the deadliest striker to feature in this competition, and he will certainly be looking to add to that figure against the Czech Republic. Ronaldo endured a frustrating start to the competition as he was forced to adjust to the level of his international teammates which is undoubtedly lower than that of his colleagues at club level. Ronaldo is a man used to winning and as such was visibly angry with his sides performance against Germany. It was his teammates that came to his rescue against Denmark however, as Ronaldo had a game to forget and uncharacteristically missed some clear-cut opportunities. Portugal would have been dumped out of the competition had Pepe, Helder Postiga and Varela not shouldered some of the goal-scoring burden for Ronaldo and restored his confidence in his side. Against the Netherlands in the final group game, Ronaldo looked every inch the captain fantastic that Portugals fans had become so accustomed to seeing as he scored twice to win the game for his country. To stop Ronaldo, the Czech Republics defence need to be on the very top of their game- and even then theyll probably struggle- and make sure they stay alert at all times to his movement. Ronaldo will face Theodor Gebre-Selassie on the right side of the Czech defence, a match for pace, but a relatively inexperienced fullback at international level- a fact Ronaldo will surely look to exploit. Tactics: The Czech Republic tend to set up in a very similar way to Portugal, with a lone striker in Milan Baroš flanked by Petr Jiráek and Václav Pila playing as advanced wingers. The only difference is that they like to play with an attacking midfielder sitting just behind this front line, occupying a more advanced position that any of Portugals midfield three. Normally this playmaker role would be occupied by their captain Tomáš Rosicky, but the Arsenal midfielder was this week forced to return to Prague for treatment on an Achilles tendon injury that he picked up against Greece. He is due to re-join the squad today, but team manager Vladimir Šmicer has admitted that the chances of him featuring on Thursday are low, which is a considerable blow to a Czech team that has few alternative sources of creativity to call upon. Bordeauxs Jaroslav Plašil will instead fill this position, with Daniel Kolá anchoring the midfield alongside Tomáš Hubschmann. The wings will be the most prominent source of danger for the Czech Republic with both wingers being supported by the fullbacks on either side. Portugal will need to watch out for the blistering pace of Gebre Selassie who can also deliver menacing crosses to trouble Pepe and co. Portugal will most likely line up in their 4-3-3 formation with Raul Meireless, Miguel Veloso and João Moutinho as their midfield three, with these players sitting quite deep and Meireless and Moutinho making occasional surges forward. Hélder Postiga will play as their lone striker, flanked by Nani on the right and Ronaldo on the left. Both wingers are equally proficient in cutting in and shooting or running to the by-line and crossing into the box; however neither of the two is known for tracking back to defend, which will cause problems if Gebre Selassie and Limbersky bomb forward for the Czechs. Portugal will be dangerous from set pieces for the obvious reason that is Cristiano Ronaldo, but also because of the aerial threat of Pepe and Bruno Alves. Coentrão and Pereira are the two attacking fullbacks that will look to overlap and exploit the space left by the two wingers when they tuck in, both are fast and have decent delivery, which will concern the Czechs. How the Czechs can win it: The Czech Republic will have the larger travelling support of the two sides, and their players will need all the support they can get. They will need to shut down Cristiano Ronaldo effectively and isolate Postiga up front. To have the best chance, they need to get the ball to their wingers and get support up to Baroš against a less than convincing Portuguese defence. They will need to put in a similarly resilient performance defensively as they did against Poland as well as a healthy dose of luck. While underdogs, they can never be ruled out. How the Portuguese can win it: Cristiano Ronaldo cant afford to have an off-night, he will need to be on top of his game and at his goalscoring best. They will need to exploit their aerial threat from set pieces and make sure they stay solid defensively. Nani and Ronaldo must be prepared to defend when needed and the midfield trio will have to provide a solid buffer in front of the defence. Ideally, an early goal to silence the Czech support would boost the morale and maximise the chance of victory. Portugal go into the tie as favourites, but they cant afford to underestimate their opponents. Verdict: Portugals shaky defence will mean that a clean sheet for them is unlikely, especially due to the Czechs goal-scoring wingers both being in such fine form. The Czechs remain underdogs however, as Portugals quality going forward will likely prove too much for their defence. Cristiano Ronaldo needs to be on top of his game in order for give his country the best possible chance of going through to the semis. A 3:1 win to Portugal in an open encounter.