Man of the Match: Cristiano Ronaldo has now scored Portugal’s last three goals – their entire output over their last 180 minutes. On Thursday, it took him nearly 80 minutes to put his country into the semifinals, but after spanking the right post twice (once on each side of halftime), Portugal’s captain went with his head. Diving onto a cross at 10 yards out, Ronaldo headed Joao Moutinho’s ball into the six yard box, the bounce going up and into the top of goal.
Packaged for takeaway:
- The Czech Republic had been begging for that type of finish since the 15-minute mark through the first half. Then, they stopped competing and started holding out. Why they did that, we’ll probably never know, but from that point forward, the Czechs sat deep and defended.
- Until that point, the Czech Republic looked the better side. They were having success building down the flanks, and when they gave the ball away, Portugal were spraying errant long balls to their attack in lieu of building something more substantial through the middle.
- When the game shifted, the Czechs sat very deep, showed no real interest in retaining the ball, and became reliant on wingers Vaclav Pilar and Petr Jiracek to do something to break the match open. They tried – they were the only two players to show any kind of attacking push – but with Milan Baros invisible and Tomas Rosicky again out, the Czechs had nothing else to offer.
- Perhaps Theodor Gebre Selassie had something to do with that. The Czech Republic right back had added an element of dynamism to the team’s attack during the last two games. Today, he stayed home, helping with Cristiano Ronaldo.
- For a brief time in the first half, Paulo Bento switched Nani over to the left, perhaps to help protect against Gebre Selassie’s threat. All that did was give the Czech defender an excuse to get forward. Ronaldo stayed on the left for most of the game.
- For Portugal, it was just a matter of being patient. Of course, they perpetually tried Ronaldo, with Raul Meireles proving particularly adept at providing for him. As the second half went on, Portugal increasingly tried going down their right, relying on Nani to get the ball into the box.
- The decisive movement came from the right, though not through a Nani cross. On the ball at the right, Nani turned in and found Joao Moutinho making a run. The Porto midfielder got the ball, burst through the right channel, and played a cross toward the middle. Ronaldo beat Gebre Selassie for the winner.
- The match was amazingly straight forward: Straight forward because we’re used to one team cowering in the face of (perceived) superior quality; Amazing because it’s unclear why the Czechs chose this approach. This is a nation that’s known for the quality of their soccer, none of which was put on display tonight.
- Perhaps coach Michal Bilek felt the Czechs couldn’t open up against Portugal. Against Russia, they tried to play with a side that has weapons, and they got run of the pitch. Bilek may have felt he couldn’t take the chance – that he had a better chance of winning by not playing than playing.
- It was a warning shot for a team like England, who also beg for games to be decided like this. To be sure, England is better at implementing this type of approach, and they have more ambition going forward than the Czechs showed tonight (as remarkable as that sounds). But when you let the other team have so much of the ball and so many chances, you’re begging for lightning to strike. Sometimes that lightning will be a Samir Nasri blast from 22 yards. Sometimes it will be a Cristiano Ronaldo header bounced home from 10 yards out.
- Milan Baros just completed the worst major tournament I can remember from a starting number nine. In 360 minutes, he put one shot on goal and didn’t contribute enough in the other facets of the game. His energy level was low, he was unwilling to contest balls in the air, and showed no impetus to improve.
- If you’re a Czech player, you have to feel as if your coach took the game out of your hands. If you go out and put your best foot forward and are shown out: Fine. This loss leaves too many questions. For years, Czech players may wonder what could have been.
- Portugal has no such misgivings. They’re through to the semifinals, where they’ll face the winner of Spain-France next Wendesday in Donetsk.
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