Ronaldo makes the difference
Czech Republic 0 Portugal 1:THEY WILL surely have to do rather better than this if Spain, or even France, are to be beaten in Donetsk next week, but for the moment at least Ronaldo and co will be happy just to have made it to the last four for there were moments in last night’s game when neither side seemed capable of making a compelling case for going any further.
Portugal, though, came the closer of the two and, as he so often does in these situations, their petulant Real Madrid star eventually provided the cutting edge they required to secure victory.
The pity of it all from a neutral’s point of view was that the goal came just 10 minutes from the end. True, it spared us what was shaping up to be a fairly grim session of extra-time, but had the breakthrough come earlier, Michal Bilek’s side would at least have had to come out and play a bit more.
As it was, they gambled on hanging in there and grabbing something, a game-plan that might have come to more had it not been for right back Theodor Gebre Selassie, whose inclination towards risk-taking had marked him out as a weak link long before his man-marking deficiencies became apparent.
Sure enough, it was he who lost Ronaldo for the goal.
Joao Moutinho made a timely charge down the right flank to overlap and cross for his skipper and the 27-year-old stole a good yard on the defender before heading past a helpless Petr Cech.
It had been clear from the group stages, to be fair, that neither of those teams possessed quite the swagger they did back in 2004 when the Portuguese should have won the title and the Czechs might well have. There is probably a little less steel about them too, although both generally defended well last night.
Miguel Veloso did most to keep his side out of trouble during that early spell of pressure with the Genoa midfielder roaming about from deep and calmly snuffing out problems in their infancy.
Around him, the likes of Pepe and Bruno Alves looked calm and composed and the only time Paulo Bento’s side really looked stretched was when the latter stood a little too far off Vladimir Darida and the 21 year-old curled a low cross across the face of the goal that Milan Baros couldn’t quite get to.
The Portuguese, by contrast, carved out a succession of chances as their width, generated by Ronaldo and Nani, proved a persistent thorn in the sides of Bilek’s team.
The Czechs coped, for the most part, by having their own wide midfielders do a lot of chasing back, but the Manchester United men past and present still posed plenty of problems.
Ronaldo in particular proved a handful with his movement a constant concern, but the Czechs’ central defenders, especially Michal Kadlec handled him well and it wasn’t until the stroke of half-time, when the winger brilliantly collected an angled ball on his chest then turned and shot low against the foot of the post that he really threatened to have a decisive impact on the game.
Cech might have just had his bottom corner covered and he certainly made some decent interventions at other key moments and yet, gradually, there was a growing sense over the course of a disappointing second half that, far from threatening to win the game, his side simply wasn’t doing quite enough to avoid defeat.
They did, of course, have their moments. Jaroslav Plasil and particularly Vaclav Pilar produced fine breaks down the left flank which briefly threatened to strike a potentially killer blow to Portuguese completely against the run of play. In each instance, though, the final ball into the area was poor, despite, in Pilar’s case, the midfielder having made the space for himself to do far better.
Generally, though, it was the Portuguese who simply poked and prodded, patiently waiting for the breakthrough to come.
Raul Meireles tended to be the one driving things forward from midfield and the Chelsea player provided the wide men with more than one clear-cut chance to put their side in front.
When Ronaldo returned the favour late on, however, his finishing was atrocious and for a while the Czechs might have dreamt that if they could simply keep their heads down and their resistance up, the tide would eventually turn.
It wasn’t to be, though, and even after falling behind they never really managed to find the sort of attacking rhythm that might have suggested they had an equaliser in them.
They’ll wonder over the coming days whether things might have been any different had Tomas Rosicky been fit, but they’ll have to ponder in Prague. The Portuguese might have to improve, but they do at least have more pressing matters to attend to.