Euro 2012 preview- Czech Republic vs Portugal, Warsaw, Thursday, 7:45

How the teams got to this stage

Czech Republic have recovered from their opening day humiliation to Russia where they were beaten 4-1, to become one of the more impressive units in the group stages. Boss Mikael Bilek restored midfield lynchpin David Hubschmann to the starting line-up after he was left out of the first game and it was his cultured passing that earned a 2-1 win over Greece, before Petr Jiracek’s goal edged a nervy encounter with Poland that eliminated the hosts and sent a promising Czech side into the quarter finals from group A.

Portugal meanwhile progressed from group B, so often referred to as “the group of death”, behind Germany and at the expense of Denmark and Holland, with the Oranje beaten by a virtuoso performance from the talismanic Cristiano Ronaldo who had previously struggled in the first two games. Germany edged a 1-0 win in Lviv through Mario Gomez, but Paulo Bento’s men recovered to triumph in a rollercoaster affair with Denmark, a late Silvestre Varela effort sealing a 3-2 win after Denmark had clawed back a 2 goal deficit. An eventful game in Kharkiv was sealed by Ronaldo’s sublime brace as the Dutch went home and Portugal claimed another shot at the last eight in the European Championships.

Portugal have shown strength on the counter attack in these finals with the likes of Nani and Ronaldo using their pace to stretch defenders on the break, but having conceded three headed goals, there may be some concern in wide areas where the likes of Vaclav Pilar and the physically impressive Jiracek have thrived so far. Defender Pepe has been a solid performer for Bento, so Milan Baros will have to step up his game as he has appeared anaemic and sluggish in attack so far.

Czech Republic (4-2-3-1)

 Cech

Gabre-Selassie  Kadlec  Sivok  Limbersky

Hubshcmann  Plasil

Jiracek  Kolar  Pilar

Baros

Portugal (4-3-3)

Patricio

Pereira  Pepe  Alves  Coentrao

Meireles  Veloso  Moutinho

Nani  Postiga  Ronaldo

 

Possible Line-Ups

There is only one problem of note for the Czechs and it is the news that Thomas Rosicky will not start the game as the Achilles tendon injury he picked up against Greece continues to bother the Arsenal man after he was left out of the final group game against Poland. First team coach Vladmir Smicer has confirmed the creative Rosicky will play a role in the game, but is not fit enough to start, Daniel Kolar will deputise in the playmaker role behind the main striker Milan Baros. Apart from that, Bilek has no injury concerns going into the game in the Polish capital.

There are no injury problems at all to occupy Portugal boss Paulo Bento however, as he is expected to persist with the same team that has started all three group games. Helder Postiga, despite questions over his ability to play the lone-striker role, is set to continue in the side with Varela and Benfica’s Nelson Oliveira lying in wait on the bench to make an impact.

Tactical analysis

The main area of the pitch that Portugal will target as a source of goals will obviously be the left-hand side as Real Madrid’s 60-goal winger Cristiano Ronaldo faces Theodor Gebre-Selassie who is sometimes over-enthusiastic at going forward. Portugal’s midfield three of Raul Meireles, Miguel Veloso and Joao Moutniho will lie naturally deep, inviting the Czech’s forward as a unit so the Ethiopian born full-back will have to be careful not to get sucked into the Portugal half too easily, leaving a huge gap for the lightning-quick Ronaldo to get into on the break.

Portugal do not often charge their full-backs with going forward as a result of the lack of defensive duties given to the two flair players of Nani and Ronaldo ahead of them on the wing, so Czech wingers Jiracek and Pilar will face a new challenge in having to beat the full-back rather than latch onto the ball in behind with clever movement, which got goals against Russia and Greece in the group stages. It will also require more intelligent, willing movement from Milan Baros against the physicality of Pepe and Alves who have performed strongly in this tournament. There is a feeling however, with 3 goals being shipped to crossed-balls in the group stages, Portugal may be weak under the high ball.

With Portugal also fielding a lurching, hold-up centre-forward in Helder Postiga, a lot of the play will take place in the midfield as both teams look to supply the strikers who are unlikely to be mobile enough in a lone-role to create chances for themselves. For Portugal, the main source of creation will inevitably come from Ronaldo and Nani on the wings, whilst a midfield runner, either Meireles or Moutinho will try to offer support in attack as Veloso holds in defensive midfield. That is why it is vital the full-backs Gebre-Selassie and David Limbersky stay close to the Portuguese wide men and show conservatism in going forward.

As for the Czech’s, with Thomas Rosicky missing, Daniel Kolar will have to be cultured and intelligent with both his passing and movement in the final third as he attempts to supply the forward line against a congested Portuguese midfield three. Behind him, the double-pivot of Hubshcmann and Jaroslav Plasil will be required to offer support when they can whilst one holds at the back.

Hubshcmann, who has impressed since coming back into the team from the first game, will be the deep-playmaker and most of Czech attacks will be started from his regista role in deep midfield. Against a Portuguese unit that will remain highly organised and rigid without the ball in hope of quickly winning it back, Hubschmann will need support and willing runners from his attacking team-mates so he can supply the same type of cultured passing that tore open Greece on matchday 2.

Key players

Theodor Gebre-Selassie- Not only will he have to display the same energy and stamina of his Ethiopian long-distance-running namesake to keep the shackles on Cristiano Ronaldo as well as provide his customary running attacking support from right back, but he will also have to be disciplined and strong defensively to prevent Ronaldo gaining the half-yard needed for him to make an impact. With the full-back easily sucked forward, a lot of Portugal’s and Ronaldo’s work will be done on the lighting quick counter-attack that the Netherlands found too hard to deal with in Kharkiv on Sunday, so Gebre-Selassie will have to be more cautious in an attacking respect.

 

Petr Cech- The Chelsea goalkeeper is having a strange tournament in that after coming off the back of a superb contribution to his side’s Champions League win, he has displayed the same nerves and shakiness that saw him make poor errors in the last European Championships. An awful spill of the ball which allowed Greece to pull a goal back on matchday 2, compounded by an unsure goalkeeping performance against co-hosts Poland last Saturday are suggestive he could be got at here by the long-range prowess of Nani and Ronaldo. Expect a mixture of swerving efforts and aerial balls into Postiga and Ronaldo to test Cech’s resolve, especially at set-pieces where Pepe and Bruno Alves have been constant threats in this tournament.

Raul Meireles- The Czech’s attacking midfield threat will be provided by Viktoria Plzen’s Daniel Kolar, so there is a lesser need for the midfield three to stay in shape that was used to stifle Germany and Holland in the group stages. Meireles’ energy will be relied upon to break-away from Veloso and Moutinho to provide attacking support, as well as a pressing on David Hubschmann who likes time and space to settle on the ball to launch Czech attacks.

Score prediction

With the Czech’s not being renowned for defensive effort or organisation, it will be intriguing to see how Bilek plays this in terms of taking the game to the Portuguese or trying to stifle the creative force of Ronaldo and Nani by sitting deep. Portugal’s game-plan under Bento is to invite the opposition on and hit them on the counter with fierce running, so if the Czech’s are reluctant to pile options forward in risk of being caught with gaps in behind, we may see a very close, cagey game. If the Czech’s can see the ball in midfield however, they could create enough opportunities for the two impressive wingers, Pilar and Jiracek, to test a back four that has been found wanting with wide balls so far in these finals.

However, possessing the physical resolve and big-game experience of Pepe, Alves, Meireles, Ronaldo and Nani, Portugal may edge a nervy contest against a battling, respectable Czech effort.

Portugal 1 (Ronaldo) Czech Republic 0

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