Cristiano Ronaldo, Fabio Coentrao

Cristiano Ronaldo, wing commanders, and Czech Republic-Portugal: Thursday’s Euro 2012 playlist

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Two weeks ago Portugal looked like a good bet to finish last in Group B. Now they’re favorites to advance from Euro 2012’s quarterfinals. How did this happen? They walked into the Group of Death with most seeing them well behind Germany and the Netherlands. The quartet’s other team was Denmark, a nation that’s bested Portugal in the last two qualifying cycles. Now, they’re bonafide dark horses – as good a bet as any to win this, beyond Germany and Spain.

The biggest difference has been goals. Between their playoff win over Bosnia and Herzegonvina and the start of Euro 2012, the Seleccao scored one goal in 270 minutes. It wasn’t exactly a shock. Portugal’s established quite a reputation for squandering their attacking talent. Blame the lack of a number nine, or blame former coach Carlos Quieroz. No matter, the scoring drought extended into Group B play, where Portugal was shut out by Germany in their opening match.

Then came a relative explosion. Three goals against Denmark served as revenge. Wrapping up group play, Portugal scored twice against the Netherlands, both goals coming from their dormant giant: Cristiano Ronaldo. If he finally starts bringing his club-world quality to international soccer, Portugal may be more than mere dark horses.

Their Thursday opponents, the Czech Republic, can do for some awakenings of their own. While people debate whether Milan Baros should persist as the team’s starting striker, the leading scorer at Euro 2004 has gone silent. He went the competition’s first 250 minutes without registering a shot on goal. Suffice to say, he remains scoreless.

Combined with the health concerns surrounding captain Tomas Rosicky, and the Czechs may be left relying on their wingers to carry them. To this point, that’s where all their firepower’s come from, with left wing Vaclav Pilar and opposite Petr Jiracek getting help from right back Theodor Gebre Selassie. With Tomas Hubschmann holding down the middle, it’s been enough, albeit against a weak group.

The easy ride stops at 2:45 p.m. Eastern as Euro 2012 starts its quarterfinal round. Here’s your playlist:

1. New pattern

A howler in each of the Czech Republic’s first two games had goalkeeper Petr Cech looking more like his 2008 self than the man who helped carry Chelsea to the Champions League title. Against Poland, however, he made it 90 minutes without an issue, and while that was mostly because of the control the Czechs exerted over the match’s final 60 minutes, results are results. The scoresheet alone really doesn’t provide much context.

On Thursday, Cech’s going to be tested far more often. Cristiano Ronaldo is hitting a run of form, and if that doesn’t translate into questions for Cech, it’s going to at least force some corners. On the other side, Nani has been one of the tournament’s best wingers. His crossing will test Cech’s decision making.

After Robert Lewandowski was taken out of Saturday’s game, Poland didn’t have much to offer. Portugal won’t be so easily dissuaded.

2. Wide view

Portugal’s wingers can cause nightmares, but given how the Czech Republic’s threatened from wide, Paulo Bento and his staff might have had a moment’s pause before falling asleep on Wednesday. Vaclav Pilar could still prove the tournament’s breakout player. Petr Jiracek’s make an impact on each of the two matches he’s started on the right. Theodor Gebre Selassie’s been the competition’s biggest threat from the back.

Bento, however, shouldn’t lose any sleep over the problem. Fullbacks Fabio Coentrao (left) and Joao Periera (right) have given all-tournament performances, and for as good as Nani has been going forward, he has also exhibited years of work drilled into him by Alex Ferguson and Manchester United. While Gebre Selassie is set to start on Cristiano Ronaldo’s side, there’s no reason Portugal’s wingers can’t be flipped. Ronaldo has shown an aversion to starting as a nine, but for one game, he should be willing to move to his less-favored right wing.

3. Remember Holland

Portugal may slowly be leaving the Caros Quieroz era behind, but in their decisive group match against the Netherlands, they reverted to their shell. It was only after the Netherlands took the lead that Portugal woke up. From there forward, they controlled the match. Who would have known the Dutch can’t defend? (Answer: Everybody except Portugal, seemingly.)

Will Bento learn from the Holland match? There’s no reason for them to come out in their shell except reflexive conservatism. Against the Czech Republic, they can do as they did against Germany and Holland, start their midfield deep, and hope the Czechs expose themselves like they did against Russia. Or, they can control the match from the opening kickoff like the better team they are.

4. Time for answers

It seems Michal Bilek has been putting off his team’s attacking issues. I say “seems” because he doesn’t have a lot of options. If Tomas Necid, their 22-year-old forward protege, isn’t going to be used, there aren’t many alternatives to Milan Baros. There were fitness issues surrounding Necid, but if he isn’t healthy, why is he in the squad?

Baros isn’t the only issue. Tomas Rosicky’s recovering from an Achilles injury that kept him out of the Poland match. That’s one problem. Another is his productivity. Rosicky failed to make an impact in the two games he’s played. It might be best to give Daniel Kolar a second start and leave Rosicky as an as-needed option.

Regardless, Bilek can’t wait any longer. Portugal’s the best team the Czechs have faced since opening against Russia, a game they lost 4-1. He either addresses the attack or leaves the tournament with some “what ifs”.
ProSoccerTalk is doing its best to keep you up to date on what’s going on in Poland and Ukraine. Check out the site’s Euro 2012 page and look at the site’s previews, predictions, and coverage of all the events defining UEFA’s championship.

WATCH: USMNT’s Bobby Wood scores fast-break goal for Union Berlin

BERLIN, GERMANY - JULY 15:  Bobby Wood poses during the offical team presentation of 1.FC Union Berlin at Stadion an der Alten Foersterei on July 15, 2015 in Berlin, Germany.  (Photo by Matthias Kern/Bongarts/Getty Images)
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When the United States takes on Guatemala in next month’s World Cup qualifiers, might we see Bobby Wood go from super sub to starter?

The Union Berlin striker with a pair of memorable USMNT goals to top the Netherlands and Germany is doing more of the same in 2.Bundesliga.

[ MORE: Fabian Johnson nabs fifth goal of Bundesliga season ]

The 3-0 win saw Wood race down the field for this fast break goal, his fourth in as many matches. On the season, the Hawaiian-born 23-year-old has nine goals and four assists, though Union doesn’t have a look at promotion this season.

Still, as Dr. Dre might say, “Bobby Wood… Bobby Wood always up to no good.” If Jurgen Klinsmann is thinking 4-4-2 with Wood and in-form, slimmed-down Jozy Altidore, we’d be happy to have a look at it.

Aston Villa 0-6 Liverpool: Reds demolish out-of-sorts Villans in historic fashion

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 14:  Daniel Sturridge of Liverpool scores the opening goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Aston Villa and Liverpool at Villa Park on February 14, 2016 in Birmingham, England.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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  • Milner, Sturridge score early
  • Villa eight points off 17th place
  • Can scores great low goal in 59th
  • Most home goals allowed by Villa in PL history

Even Kolo Toure scored!

Six different Liverpool players scored a goal as Liverpool piled misery on Aston Villa with a 6-0 win at Villa Park on Sunday.

Daniel Sturridge, James Milner, Divock Origi, Nathaniel Clyne, Emre Can and Toure scored for the Reds.

The loss is Aston Villa’s first in five at home, and stops them from moving toward 19th place Sunderland.

The Villans are seven back of the Black Cats, and Liverpool pulls into eighth. The Reds sit three points back of fifth-place Manchester United.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Sturridge’s celebratory dance was back on display, as he nodded down Coutinho’s cross to make it 1-0 in the 16th minute.

Milner’s free kick from the right slipped just over Mamadou Sakho‘s head but tricked Mark Bunn enough to give Liverpool a 2-0 lead after 25 minutes of play.

Villa was booed off the pitch at halftime after struggling to show any semblance of a comeback pulse.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Liverpool added a third on a counterattack, as Can picked up a square pass from Roberto Firmino and buried a low shot past Bunn.

Origi subbed on for Sturridge, and scored moments later. Twenty-seven seconds after the move, the Belgian buried a goal. Clyne netted a minute later to make it three goals conceded in less than seven minutes.

By the time Toure added his first goal in five years, it was clear this was an onslaught. In a year that could see Villa relegated for the first time in Premier League history, the club added another first.

VIDEO: Man City youngster’s glee at Dad’s surprising gift of tickets

Man City kid dad
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This Man City fan dad gets high marks for Valentine’s Day after he combined with mom to give a big Etihad Stadium surprise for their son.

[ WATCH: USMNT’s Fabian Johnson scores fifth for ‘Gladbach ]

The child’s reaction could even warm a United fan’s heart, as he leaps into dad’s arms after learning their Sunday morning trip to the team shop was really a date at the big game against Spurs.

Now will their club make it an even better day? Doubt it matters all that much to the kid right now!

VIDEO: Watch Arsenal fans across USA go nuts during last-gasp win

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 14:  Robert Huth and Kasper Schmeichel of Leicester City react after Danny Welbeck of Arsenal scored the winning goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Leicester City at Emirates Stadium on February 14, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)
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When Danny Welbeck jumped off the bench and made his return for Arsenal after being out injured for nine months, you kind of knew the writing was on the wall.

[ MORE: 3 things learned | Player ratings

That said, heading into the 95th minute with a free kick 40-yards out, as Mesut Ozil swung in a perfect cross time stood still as Welbeck glanced a header into the far corner.

[ RELATED: Welbeck reacts to heroics | Welbeck’s goal

Pandemonium ensued at the Emirates Stadium as Arsenal had snatched a late 2-1 win over title rivals Leicester City in the most dramatic of fashions.

Wherever you watched the game, it’s likely you had a similar reaction to these guys…


This video from the Bling Pig pub in New York City sums up the bedlam well…

While up in Buffalo, NY…

The Syracuse Gooners lost the plot…

It went off in Virginia Beach…

Down in New Orleans it got a little crazy…

Up in Minneapolis/St Paul a similar scene of utter jubilation played out…

The broadcast crew picked up on some of the celebrations from players and fans postgame…

BONUS: And, because it’s awesome, this is how the guys at Telemundo called the game-winner. Sensational.