Game in a sentence
Individual brilliance beats out cautious defending as Ronaldo heads Portugal past the Czech Republic to reach the final four.
- Portugal were roughly in a 4-3-3 with a side unchanged from the one that beat the Netherlands in the final Group B match. Postiga up front flanked by Nani on the left and Ronaldo on the right, although all three players roamed fairly freely, Ronaldo perhaps more so.
- The Czech Republic was pretty much unchanged in a 4-2-3-1, except for Daniel Kolar, who was replaced by Vladimir Darida. Cue lame post-structuralist philosophy jokes (at least from me and Grant Wahl apparently).
- Unfortunately, as feared, the game was a bit…cagey. A “tactical chess match,” as the euphemism goes. Not outright boring perhaps, but not very compelling for the neutral. Certainly the deadly dull atmosphere in Warsaw didn’t help.
- Why was it boring/cagey you ask? Well, a number of different factors that mostly favoured the Czech Republic’s game, as to be expected, and mostly in the first hour of play. Because of the quality of Portugal out wide, and the generally troublesome unpredictability of Portugal’s ostensible wingers in Nani and Ronaldo, the Czech full-backs, Gebre Selassie in particular, were reluctant to bomb forward as they have in previous matches. The contribution in defense was welcome, particularly from David Limbersky
- This meant Petr Jiracek and Vaclav Pilar had to do most of the work in attacking the Portuguese final third on their own. Jiracek in particular had a freer role moving in the final third, cutting in, dribbling forward, and Pilar attempted to use his pace on occasion. But they created precious few chances, because Darida was largely ineffective and because Milan Baros was an utter pylon.
- Portuga’s humming attacking trio was also muted somewhat by the disciplined and impressive positional play from the two defensive midfielders, Jaroslav Plasil and Tomás Hübschman. They were adroit in cutting off the passing lanes between Ronaldo, Postiga and Nani.
- Postiga however picked up an injury in the 40th minute, and was replaced by Hugo Almeida, who gave Portugal a bit of height at least, and increased their reliance on long balls into the box, particularly as the second half progressed.
- Still, it would be inaccurate to say Portugal were “stifled.” Particularly as Ronaldo hit the post—twice. That brings his tournament total to four. Portugal created several clear cut chances but were unable to finish.
- The quiet (not always) contribution of Joao Moutinho and Miguel Veloso behind the front three shouldn’t go unrecognized either. Moutinho stood out in particular, with the highest number of attempted passes, more than half in the Czech final third. He notched an assist, and was second in shots.
- And it was Moutinho whose cross met Cristiano Ronaldo’s head, the Number 2 to Lionel Messi whom it should be said is “up for it” this tournament, a frightening proposition indeed.
- The Czech Republic whimpered toward the finish line, and had nothing to offer (they managed two shots all game, one off target and one blocked). It turns out it’s very difficult to win when you’re centreforward is a ghost and you can’t seem to find a decent player to play in the midfield hole. Portugal are worthy semifinalists, and it would be naive to count them out of a possible run to the Championship.
1. Joao Moutinho
2. Cristiano Ronaldo
3. David Limbersky