Euro 2012 | Quarterfinal 1: Portugal 1-0 Czech Republic

Portugal 1-0 Czech Republic

Dominant.

11 corners for Portugal v 6 for Czech Republic
56% of possession for Portugal
Portugal 20 shots, 5 on goal v Czechs with 2 shots, 0 on goal

Portugal came out onto the pitch and absolutely owned Czech Republic, controlling the match from the first moments. And for all the credit due Cristiano Ronaldo for being a constant source of danger in the attack, there was one player who popped off the screen watching this game: Portugal’s midfield engine João Moutinho. As easy as it is to be drawn to the tricks and speed of Nani and Ronaldo on the wings, skimming past defenders, winning free kicks and corners, to my eyes, it was Moutinho who stole the show, not only assisting on the match winning goal, but (almost) more importantly taking the Czech midfield completely out of the match. His positional flexibility dragged the opposition all over the field and then he got the winner onto Ronaldo’s head…

That is some run onto the throw-in, one touch past the defender and a wicked cross that Ronaldo sprints toward and hammers into the ground and in. That’s how you do it. It’s not like Ronaldo was struggling; he put a wicked shot on frame that hammered off the post to end the first half. But having Moutinho in the team, allowing him to gather the ball deep, means that Nani, Postiga (now injured) and Ronaldo are able to sprint up and down the pitch putting pressure on defenses. Moutinho’s play has been a huge boon to Portugal; when you combine it with dangerous supporting runs from Pereira and Coentrão and outstanding defensive leadership from Pepe, it all seems to be coming together at the right time for Portugal. They look better with every game.


Fosse!

Except.

Portugal might be worried: Raul Meireles is not a ball winner and if Portugal are to win this championship, they are going to need to be more disruptive on defense, especially up the middle of the park. If there is one thing Nani and Ronaldo don’t care to do, it is get back and play solid defense. That is going to be okay in a Czech midfield that features Jiracek and Darida, but against Xavi/Busquets/Alonso/Iniesta? Not going to fly. Spain have been beaten on the counter before (see Italy), and it is not impossible that Ronaldo, Pepe and Coentrão, who see the Spanish players all of the time, will be able to lock them down with the great runs and fluent defense they use under their club manager José Mourinho at Real Madrid, but I’m getting ahead of myself*. Portugal have a lot to be proud of, but they also need to address how they will handle their next opponent.

For the Czechs? Petr Cech had a great match to keep them in it. Otherwise? They were overmatched and they knew it.

“It’s just that Ronaldo is better. He can play with his head, with both feet,” Czech Republic coach Michal Bilek said. “That decided the match. In the second half, we lost our strength and determination and they had one chance that decided the match.”

Have to agree with that. It’s on to the semi-finals for Portugal. Didn’t see it coming, but they look very good now. If Ronaldo can keep it going, look out world.

*Spain haven’t even beat the French yet!

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Euro 2012 | Match Day 5

Group A came back with a bang today; early goals and gutsy performances, huge gaffes and tactical gamesmanship, this was a great day for football. It was a poor day for supporters though, with reports of Russian fans marching en masse for Russia Day through the streets of Warsaw which, in the spectrum of bad ideas, ranks at the top of the heap.

The aftermath? Not good, according to the BBC…

“Clashes between rival Russian and Polish football fans in the Polish capital Warsaw have marred a Euro 2012 tie between the two teams. A march ahead of the match by thousands of Russian fans to mark their national day had to be halted and some missiles were thrown. Police say they arrested at least 120 people and that 10 people were injured. About 6,000 police were on duty to keep the rival fans apart. Beforehand, some Polish fans on a bridge on the march route had tried to attack the Russian fans and had been involved in scuffles. Tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon were used to disperse fans at the end of the march, according to Poland’s state news agency.”

I won’t post video of idiots sucker punching one another, but they are generally available online and extremely disappointing. You can’t help but link history and sport, especially in the Euros, and with Russian history in Poland, (which includes a 100 year reign after annexation in the 19th century and Soviet domination after World War II), I’m going to go on a limb and say that the Russian fans who decided to parade through the streets of Warsaw were almost as disrespectful as UEFA itself, which allowed this banner to be unfurled in the Polish national stadium:


This is a bad idea.

Hopefully this is the end of it, but the Russian FA might want to re-think their instructions to the traveling support. Interesting to see what UEFA has to say about that banner (hint: Nothing).

Czech Republic vs Greece

The Czechs walked out 2-0 winners after two early Greek turnovers in the midfield lead to two great Czech goals only a minute or so apart. Here they are:


Jiracek 1-0


Pilar 2-0

After all that, it was only the 6th minute, which meant there was a full game to play. The Greeks did very little to address the problems they were having in midfield, but again, Greek manager Fernando Santos did the right thing, recognizing that his only path forward was to keep the faith in three attacking players, and his patience (and better midfield play) paid off when Petr Cech spilled a simple ball into the path of Fanis Gekas who pushed it into an empty net. In the catalogue of howlers, you’ll find this one under “goalies who had their skulls bashed in who are now afraid of contact”:


Cech please.

Czech Republic didn’t have much to do to maintain their lead, and after midfielder Tomas Rosicky went off in the 2nd half with an achilles injury, the plan seemed to be to hold on, press the ball constantly and let the Czech speed advantage on the wings keep the Greeks honest. It worked. With 3 points in the bag, the Czechs have a chance to advance if they can get a result against Poland this weekend. And the Greeks have Russia, who need a result, so um. Yeah.

Poland vs Russia

Previewing Group A, I predicted this was the must see match and well, great match. What can you say? The Poles came out on fire but wasted several chances, with Russian keeper Vyacheslav Malafeev making a save (he never even saw it) with his shin tops on Poland’s most dangerous attack. And, as it has been going in the tournament, after dominating most of the half, Poland gave up the first goal with Alan “Universal Transfer Target” Dzagoev flicking in Andrei Arshavin’s free kick to give Russia the 1-0 lead.


Kid can ball.

At this point Poland, took the reigns back in hand and pressed again, with the middle of the Russian midfield struggling to create an advantage and Aleksandr Kerzhakov failing to find the net again while leading the line brilliantly (I have not given up on him! He is class at playing his part if not at finishing! Where are the Pavlyuchenko lovers now?!). As it was for the Greeks, a costly turnover in the midfield turned into pain for Russia when Andrei Arshavin decided to keep dribbling when he should have been passing (how many times has this particular mistake been punished this tournament? PASS. THE. BALL!), and Polish captain Jakub Blaszczykowski got the ball and crushed the goal of the tournament (sorry Sheva)


Blaszczykowski. Bang!

The match was marred by poor officiating; there were several fouls that went without a call that really impacted the flow of the game. I understand the need to let things go sometimes, but this match saw some brutal no calls and even more problemtic fouls given the wrong way; Dzagoev in particular got on the wrong end of about four bad calls that finally boiled over into a yellow card for dissent. The kid doesn’t strike me as a dirty player or one to complain too much, but I think he had a point. That said, let your captain do the griping…


Booked

Anyway, the game ended 1-1, so I guess both sets of idiotic hooligan fans were right in the end; their team was on top! Yay you! Everyone’s a winner!

But seriously, the Group is set up perfectly for drama on the final day; Russia need a draw or better to advance, the Poles will want to win against the Czech Republic, The Czechs will want to draw or win against Poland, and the Greeks need a win. All to play for, then. My call, as I said in the preview:

“I like Russia to win the Group with Poland to qualify on a final day must-win against the Czechs.”

I’ll stand by that.