The truly exciting European football championship has entered the final direct elimination stage. Upstarts Portugal face the surprising Czech Republic, favorites Germany play miraculous Greece, reborn Italy battle the lions of England, and shaky France must face title holders Spain. Sadly, the host countries, Poland and Ukraine were both eliminated much to the disappointment of generous home fans.
Major disappointment Holland saw its place taken by the feisty upstart Czech Republic. My heart goes out to the courageous Greek players, who with their heart gave a moment of joy, in dark economic times, to their countrymen by
advancing to the quarterfinals.
Portugal advanced in the group of death, with a well deserved victory over Holland. Criticized after the first two game, Cristiano Ronaldo displayed all of his immense talent and desire to win by scoring his 76 goal in 73 matches this season. Incredible, on the last goal he ran over 40 yards to receive the ball in the Dutch area, dribbled the defender, and scored. Against the Dutch he did was only a true superstar can do, he took over the game.
If his form continues, Portugal will advance. Coach Paulo Bento has two players that make the difference, Nani of Manchester United and Cristiano Ronaldo of course. He also has Pepe in great form in defense and Bruno Alves on the left side. Rui Patricio in goal has been solid, and Bento has gone with a line of four defenders with Joao Pereira, Pepe, Bruno Alves, and Fabio Coentrao. The Portuguese are confident in their back line and the Czechs will offer less of a threat than the Dutch or the Germans forward did. In midfield the Portuguese will start Veloso, Nani of Manchester United and Meireles of Chelsea.
These are three experienced fighters, who will run the entire 90 minutes. It's from Nani that Coach Bento will expect the 50 yard passes to Cristiano Ronaldo. The Czechs will have to put at least two men on him all the time, as one is not sufficient to stop him. Against the Dutch Ronaldo ran by Van der Wiel and Vlaar like a hot knife through butter.
The defeat of Russia by the Greeks allowed the Czech Republic to advance to the quarterfinals with a win over Poland. But the Czechs displayed true fighting spirit with their excellent right midfielder and scorer Jiracek of Wolfsburg. With his long hair and ferocious fighting spirit, Jiracek seems like a mythic warrior of ancient times. Coach Bilek, who resembles actor Bruce Willis, has his veteran captain Peter Czech in goal, who is a guarantee of leadership.
In defense Sivok, Kadlec, Limbersky and Hubschman are all big physical players. Against Poland, Kadlec saved a last minute shot with his head that would have doomed his side. Plasil, Kolar and Jiracek command the midfield, but Jiracek is the true leader of this Czech team, and has scored two vitally important goals for this team. Up front the Czech have weakness as neither Baros nor Pilar have shown signs of scoring.
There is no doubt that after their performance with Holland, Portugal is favored to win this game. The solid defense of the Portuguese will face the solid midfield of the Czechs. But it is in the offense that Portugal hold, the advantage with Cristiano Ronaldo. They have him and the Czechs don't. Coach Bilek will have to find a solution to cage the terrifying Ronaldo and hope his warrior Jiracek can come up with another goal.
Coach Bento will have to set the fast tempo, dominate the game, and allow Nani to set up the devastating Portuguese superstar, who cannot stop scoring this season. Look for another brilliant performance by Cristiano Ronaldo to advance Portugal to the semifinals.