Euro 2012: Five things we learned from Czech Republic v Portugal

by Ger McCarthy

Portugal possess three musketeers

Whilst Cristiano Ronaldo will rightly take all the plaudits for scoring his side’s winner in a 1-0 defeat of the Czech it is the three players stationed across the middle of the Portuguese midfield that have anchored Paulo Bento’s side’s path to the last four of Euro 2012. Joao Moutinho, Miguel Veloso and Raul Meireles could be described as Portugal’s ’Dogs of War’ with none of the three midfielders renowned for their goal scoring ability.

Yet what the trio lack in the goals scored column they more than make up for in work rate and effort. That is not to say the likes of Chelsea’s Meireles does not possess an abundance of skill, he does, but his plus Moutinho and Veloso’s ability to close down the midfield area has allowed fellow team mates Nani and CR7 the freedom to cause havoc in the final third of the pitch. Bento’s formation suits his three centre-field players perfectly and allows for each individual to break forward and join the attack as well as providing an experienced shield for Portugal’s back four.

The Czechs froze

This was a poor Czech performance considering how well they negotiated a difficult Group A and finished ahead of Greece, Russia and Poland to reach the last eight of the tournament. Michal Bilek’s decision to alter his tactics and concentrate on minimizing Ronaldo’s influence was understandable but not to the point where it completely blunted his side’s counter-attacking ability.

Apart from a couple of half chances in the opening 45 minutes the Czech’s were completely outplayed and dominated both in the possession and territorial stakes making for a one-sided encounter. Vaclav Pilar and Petr Jiracek were two of the Czech Republic’s best attacking weapons in the group stages but barely got a chance to demonstrate their abilities in Portugal’s half as they spent much of the game scrambling to close their opponents’ down on the edge of their own area. The Czech Republic lit up Euro 2012 with some dazzling counter-attacking play in the early stages of the competition only to meekly fizzle out against the Portuguese and exit at the quarter-finals stage.

A striker is needed

Prior to kick-off Portugal had kept a clean sheet in only one of their previous 10 matches at the European Championships but a solid defence and hard-working midfield combined to stifle the Czech’s and book their place in the last four. The counter-attacking threat of Nani and Ronaldo (when on form) is one of the most potent in the tournament yet a lack of an out and out striker may yet hurt Portugal’s chances of progressing further in the competition.

Helder Postiga started as Portugal’s main striker in Warsaw last night but was completely anonymous until an injury forced his early retirement from the game. Enter Hugo Almeida as his replacement who managed to get the ball in the net only for the effort to be correctly ruled out for offside. Almeida toiled hard up front on behalf of his side but never threatened the Czech Republic back four sufficiently to suggest he is going to be a game winner for Portugal in the semi-finals. Better defences than the Czech’s will close Ronaldo down and unless Postiga, Almeida and Nani can step up to the plate and deliver the necessary goals then Portugal are going to struggle to score.

Ronaldo is the key

Hardly an earth-shattering statement but there can be no denying the fact Cristiano Ronaldo has delivered in the past two matches when it mattered most for his country. For such a phenomenal player to have struggled in front of goal in recent times remains a mystery. In his defence, the Real Madrid star has played close to 7o domestic games this season so tiredness coming was definitely a factor into the Euros and contributed to his disappointing early displays.

And yet despite the lack of goals – until his brace against the Dutch and winner against the Czech – the statistics surrounding CR7’s recent efforts make for amazing reading. If Ronaldo’s five efforts that hit the woodwork in Euro 2012 had gone in, he would have equalled Michel Platini as the all-time European Championship top scorer on 9 goals. Ronaldo has now scored six at Euro Finals, the joint-most of any Portuguese player, along with Nuno Gomes. No player has ever had more shots (including blocked efforts) at a single European finals than Cristiano Ronaldo in 2012.

All these statistics add up to the undeniable fact that if Ronaldo can maintain his current form then Portugal has a fighting chance against either Spain or France in the last four of the competition.

Portugal can go further

Based on last night’s solid display the Portuguese have every chance of making the Euro 2012 final. Taking on a French side dealing with alleged in-fighting would not unduly worry Paul Bento’s confident side while preventing Spain from registering an historic three in a row would surely encourage the Portuguese to produce their best performance of the tournament and get one over their Iberian neighbours.

Goalkeeper Rui Patricio has enjoyed a solid Championship thus far and has been protected by an impressive back four of Joao Pereira, Pepe, Bruno Alves and Fabio Coentrao. Real Madrid’s Pepe in particular has improved steadily as the Euros have progressed and proven to be a commanding figure in the heart of defence. Portugal proved against the Czech’s that when they impose their game plan on other sides they are a hard side to breakdown.

The midfield trio of Joao Moutinho, Miguel Veloso and Raul Meireles have been discussed earlier in this article but remain both the defensive shield and supporting attackers to their more illustrious strikers. Nani and Helder Postiga can be infuriatingly inconsistent but as long as you have Cristiano Ronaldo in your side then you have a chance against any opposition.

Follow Ger on Twitter @germccarthy74 

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