Portugal progressed to the semi-finals of the Euro 2012 Championships on Thursday night as Cristiano Ronaldo headed the winner in a generally open, and for large parts, scrappy affair.
It was previously acknowledged that Czech Republic were a generous draw after the progression from such a tough group, but that did not make the task any easier, even if, on paper, it was suggested.
It was really a quarter-final of underdogs; both sides were not expected to progress from the group stages. Paulo Bento, the only manager to field the same starting eleven for all three group games, did so for a fourth consecutive game.
The Portugal midfield looked lethargic and fatigued throughout the match, with late challenges and poor passes evident by all three of their players in the middle.
What is now worrying is the possibility of total burnout for Bento’s players. Helder Postiga’s departure around the half-hour mark with a hamstring injury signified the demands that the players had met to progress.
Cristiano Ronaldo appears to be blossoming as the tournament grows old, denied by the post twice during the match, and four times throughout the tournament, he was a constant threat to the Czech defence.
His off-the-ball movement was nothing short of magnificent, but at points he cut a forlorn figure up front, frustrated by his compatriots inability to match his standards. In particular, Nani was lacking the finished product and poor throughout. His pace was causing trouble but too often he was rolling over on the floor in a fit of over-exaggeration.
Ronaldo is often criticised as selfish in a Portugal shirt, but tonight was an indication of just why he sometimes has to be. Portugal would be a decidedly average side without the tricks, flicks, hunger and desire that he possesses in such vast amounts. His run for the goal was indicative of his desire to pull his team through; the anticipation was a God sent gift for a player that has been unlucky to not add to his one Balon D‘Or.
It was a clean sheet for Portugal who progress to play either Spain or France, but defensive frailties are more evident now. Exposed more clearly today than previously was Bruno Alves’ lack of pace over the ground when the Czech’s were exposing the gaps left by Fabio Coentrao and Joao Pereira. The latter was caught static a number of times by Kadlec and Jiracek, who both looked to chase the ball when it was cleared over the small Portuguese right back.
There was no suggestion of a relaxation on the reliance on Ronaldo, as was evident with his formidable display. So Portugal deservedly progress with a dominant display which really should have ended up with a greater margin of victory than that one goal, but nonetheless it is a win which will please Paulo Bento and have him plotting the next chapter on Portugal’s journey, which has surprisingly extended longer than anticipated.
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