Cristiano Ronaldo’s 79th minute header was enough to separate the sides in Warsaw as Portugal became the first team to reach the semi-finals of Euro 2012.
It was a dominant performance from the Real Madrid forward as he had earlier hit the woodwork twice as Portugal pressed to no avail. But Ronaldo was not to be denied and eventually converted a Joao Moutinho cross to break Czech hearts late on.
It was a disappointing performance from the Czechs and they can have few complaints with their quarter-final exit. Portugal were the better side from start to finish and any threat from Michal Bilek’s side was sporadic at best. We examine the issues that emerged on a triumphant night for the Portuguese.
Such is the profile of the Portugal forward that he doesn’t so much take part in a game as take over. Even in the early stages in which the Czechs did a good job of marshalling him, he was a brooding threat. As the game wore on he became the central figure in the contest.
Some players wait a whole game for a solitary chance but for Ronaldo the next opportunity never feels more than a few minutes away. Twice he hit the woodwork before sending the Czechs home with a fantastic header.
Perhaps the lesson here was that trying to stop him by man-to-man marking is not preferable – better to focus on providing some sort of threat at the other end because in the end he will get you.
Although it would be harsh to characterise Ronaldo as wasteful, that was the overriding emotion when watching this Portugal side. They have had more than 70 efforts on goal in just four games at this tournament and that reflects not only on their impressive performances but also their poor decision-making in front of goal.
Whether it is Nani, Helder Postiga, Hugo Almeida or Raul Meireles, it is not unusual to see Portugal shoot when they should pass and pass when they should shoot. It hasn’t proven costly yet but you suspect tougher challenges lie ahead.
Fast start not key
Portugal have become the first team into the semi-finals at Euro 2012 and they’ve done so despite losing their first game 1-0 to Germany.
Indeed, the Germans are the only one of the quarter-finalists to have won their group opener.
In contrast, Russia, Ukraine, Denmark and Croatia all went home in the group stages despite winning their opening game. The key to tournament success is to peak at the right time and perhaps Portugal are going to do just that.
But should we be too critical of the Portuguese? This is the fifth European Championships in a row in which they have progressed to the knockout stages. That’s quite a feat for a country that had qualified for the Euros just once prior to 1996.
Talk of a golden generation, the fame of Ronaldo and a sterile 2010 World Cup has led to a prevailing mood that this is an under-achieving nation. But for a population the size of Portugal, in truth, they continue to punch above their weight.
Czech game plan
The Czechs defended well as a unit and passed and moved the ball in attacking positions before the break. They looked to go wide as much as possible and stretch their opponents. But in the main, Bilek set his side out to stop the opposition playing and at one point in the first-half Ronaldo was surrounded by five players. Ultimately it was not enough.
Out of ideas
The problem for the Czechs was that their only thought was to defend and contain the talented Portuguese and once Ronaldo scored, there was only ever going to one winner.
Some of the better players in this side are the younger ones and Bilek must now look ahead to a World Cup qualifying campaign. However, they will do well to even reach Brazil 2014 as they have the likes of Italy and Denmark in their group.
The National Stadium in Warsaw was awash with thousands of Czech supporters leaping up and down, who made the short journey over the border, although this was the furthest they have had to travel north in the tournament. Red, blue and white face paint was everywhere. The Portuguese fans, although outnumbered, certainly made themselves heard. The good news was that the stadium was completely full as locals came out to watch the continuation of the festival of football, despite their team’s exit.