Centre-stage Ronaldo drags Portugal past drab Czechs
Adam Hurrey's crusade to analyse, in excruciating depth, the unique language of football.
In the opening quarter-final of Euro 2012, Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal managed to do enough to get past the Czech Republic and book a semi-final. Our Euro 2012 correspondent Adam Hurrey was there and reports.
It took them 79 minutes, but Portugal finally broke Czech resistance to progress to a semi-final against either France or Spain in Donetsk.
All eyes were, naturally, on Cristiano Ronaldo as the teams took to the field at the National Stadium in Warsaw last night. He strode around the Portuguese half before the kick-off, like a stern restaurant maitred’ checking everything is in order before opening. His sense of self-importance is no surprise, but a spectacular airborne tantrum after a loose pass rolled into touch, drew the first whistles from an unsympathetic Polish/Czech crowd. Seven minutes had passed.
Starting wide out on the left, Ronaldo was itching to get more involved and, despite his coach’s insistence that a free role was not part of the plan, he roved at will. In an essentially striker-less encounter – Helder Postiga versus Milan Baros is a match-up straight out of 2004 – the onus was firmly on Ronaldo to locate the scruff of the game’s neck.
Most of the flashes of Czech urgency came from Vladimir Darida, deputising capably for the injured captain Tomas Rosicky, but all too often long balls to Baros were dealt with comfortably by Pepe and Bruno Alves. The Czechs’ game-plan was familiar, and understandable, but teams are learning to be patient against the bus-parking approach. This Portugal side are by no means exponents of tiki-taka, relying on the pace of their full-backs and wingers to stretch the game.
After a frustrating opening, Ronaldo forced his way into proceedings. Joao Moutinho fed a pass into the area, but Ronaldo was foiled by an alert, onrushing Cech. One of his patented free-kicks then flew past Cech's post. Postiga limped off with a hamstring injury, to be replaced by the distinctly lumbering Hugo Almeida, but everything still went through their captain. On the stroke of half-time, Ronaldo made another sortie into the Czech box, turning sharply and striking the base of Cech’s near post. Referee Howard Webb sounded the half-time whistle, and the Czechs had reached a dubious base camp. Where they intended to press on to, nobody was quite sure.
Inevitably, it was the Portuguese who started the second half with the greater intent, moving the ball much quicker. Ronaldo’s eye-catching dynamism often overshadows the quiet prompting of Moutinho and Miguel Veloso in the heart of midfield, but he remained their greatest goal threat. A 35-yard free-kick skimmed the post, before Ronaldo raced through, only for Czech full-back Theodor Gebre Selassie to match his pace and shut out the danger.
On the hour mark, Portugal briefly thought the breakthrough had arrived. Almeida headed home a Ronaldo cross, but the assistant’s flag went up to little protest. Portugal still did not panic – by this time, they were hammering home the tent-pegs and lighting the gas barbecues in the Czech half.
The tiring Czech back-line was buckling under the pressure of Portugal’s relentless movement and overlapping. After 77 minutes, Moutinho raced down the right channel and the moment had arrived. His cross found the galloping Ronaldo, who slammed a header past a helpless Cech into the roof of the net. Neutrals looked wearily at the dejected Czechs, who looked unable to muster a response. Tomas Pekhart joined the fray, but Portugal continued to swallow up the long balls and deliver them back with interest.
Cech loped up-field for an injury-time corner, which came to nothing. Portugal saw the game out with ease and their small pocket of fans celebrated their progress to the semi-finals. France or Spain await in Donetsk, which will provide a much sterner test than the limp Czechs could bring here. Ronaldo continues to shoulder the responsibilities, but his understated back-up crew of Moutinho, Veloso and Nani stay busy behind him.
Today, I travel to Gdansk where Germany must circumvent Greece’s fleet of parked buses. A similar game of cat-and-mouse is expected,and the Germans will do well to emulate Portugal’s fleet-footed approach.
Adam will be covering Euro 2012 for the BettingExpert blog with thanks to our friends at Betfair.
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