Portugal and the Czech Republic come face to face in the first quarterfinal clash of the 2012 European Championships. The match will take place at the Warsaw National Stadium in Poland on Friday and although many may consider Portugal as clear favourites, the Czechs will be eager to prove them wrong.
Czech Republic: Despite a crushing 1-4 loss to Russia in the very first game of the Euros, the Czechs have shown a lot of heart to make it to the final eight of the competition. They would go on to top Group A, after registering back-to-back wins against 2004 Euro winners Greece and co-hosts Poland. Now, the Czech Republic has the tough task of disposing a Cristiano Ronaldo-led Portuguese team. They will be buoyed, however, by memories of Euro 96, when they beat Portugal 1-0, at the same stage.
Their biggest advantage will be their mental fortitude; they lost the first game of their qualifying run to the Euros as well, against Lithuania. Should Michal Bilek's side find that same mental strength, even Cristiano Ronaldo may not be able to do much. However, former Czech defender Miroslav Kadlec, who was a part of the Euro 96 squad, feels Portugal are the favourites to win this game.
"Portugal are the favourites and if it ends up like in 1996, it would be a dream. We will do everything for it not to spell the end of the tournament for us," ESPN quoted Kadlec as saying.
Portugal: The Portuguese seem to have found form at the right time. The four-game losing streak from earlier this year threatened to derail their campaign in Poland and Ukraine, particularly after an opening day defeat to Germany. They will be further encouraged by the fact they beat out Holland, in the competition's Group of Death, to qualify. Although most of their performances seem to be inspired by captain Cristiano Ronaldo, Paulo Bento's men have proven they are a dangerous side when they get their act together. In spite of being a goal down in their final game against the Dutch, it looked certain Portugal, who were playing very well, were going to win. Their main strength is the counter-attacking play coming down both wings, in the form of Ronaldo and Nani.
Meanwhile, on a personal level, Ronaldo finally proved himself a match-winner with the national team against Holland; he was earlier heavily criticised after a below-par performance against Denmark.
However, the Czechs will certainly look to provide a sterner test than Holland, who gave too much room to the Portuguese attack. Still, with the class of Ronaldo and Nani, the hard work of defenders Bruno Alves and Pepe and the combined effort of their midfielders, Portugal will have the edge here.
- Petr Jiracek (VfL Wolfsburg) scored the joint-third fastest goal in the history of the Euros, after two minutes and 14 seconds, against Greece
- Michal Bilek's side, who made it to the final eight on negative goal differences, did the same in Euro 96
- Portugal's win over Holland and Denmark came after four back-to-back defeats in 2012
- Cristiano Ronaldo's two strikes against the Dutch took his tally to a total of 34 international goals for Portugal, taking him ahead of Luis Figo
Team News and Tactics: The Czech Republic will be sweating over the fitness of key midfielder Tomas Rosicky, who is a major doubt after suffering an Achilles tendon injury. Michal Bilek will have to continuing relying on Daniel Kolar (Viktoria Plzen) if the Arsenal man is ruled out for this crucial encounter. In the forward line, Milan Baros (Galatasaray) will continue leading the attack.
Portugal, on the other hand, will go into this match at full strength. They will probably use the same tactics and formation, with Nani (Manchester United) and Ronaldo (Real Madrid) supporting striker Helder Postiga (Real Zaragoza) and Raul Meireles (Chelsea), Miguel Veloso (Genoa) and Joao Moutinho (Porto) handling the midfield department.
Czech Republic: Cech; G. Selassie, Sivok, Kadlec, Limbersky; Hubschman, Plasil; Jiracek, Kolar, Pilar; Baros
Portugal: Rui Patricio; Joao Pereira, Alves, Pepe, Coentrao; Meireles, Veloso, Moutinho; Nani, Postiga, Ronaldo
Where to Watch Live:
You can follow the game live from 7:15 pm (BST) on BBC One and BBC Radio 5 live and the official UEFA Web site.