Czech Republic took on Portugal in the first Quarterfinals of Euro 2012. It was billed as an exciting encounter with both the teams playing an open game. Czech Republic had their talismanic captain,Tomas Rosicky, starting from the bench after he failed to recover from injury. However, inspite of his absence, the Czechs performed admirably. It was expected that they would buckle under the pressure of playing such a big match, but in the end, they held their own and had it not been for one header from probably the most gelled hair in the industry, Rosicky might still have hoped to play in the Semifinals.
Portugal on the other hand had a stuttering start to the tournament with their star striker, Cristiano Ronaldo misfiring. It got so worse that Ronaldo even reacted to the crowd when they were chanting “Messi, Messi” towards him. However, the Real Madrid star finally got his act together in the last group match and two goals later, his confidence was sky-high.
TheHardTackle analyzes the match that played out and tries to understand where the tactics clicked and where they failed; which player grew into the match and which faded away.
Czech Republic and Portugal – The starting formations
Czech Republic started with a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Baros playing as the lone striker up front. The formation indicated that they wanted more cover in the midfield region so that the trio of Darida, Plasil and Hubschman could work their magic. Pilar and Jiracek played as the wide men on the left and right respectively. With a double pivot in the midfield, Czech hoped to contain the attacking intent of Portugal and at the same time provide their wide-men with through balls to attack.
Portugal went in with a 4-3-3 formation, with Pepe and Bruno Alves starting at the heart of defense. Pepe returned to the starting line-up after shrugging off an injury. The Portugal back four looked solid on paper as they had the perfect blend of solidity and flair, mixed with fast fullbacks, capable of running up and down the flanks. Ronaldo played in the center of the pitch with Postiga on left and Nani on right. In the midfield, Veloso has Meireles and Moutinho for company on right and left respectively.
The First Half – Open End to End Football
The match started under the watchful eyes of former Portugal legends – Eusebio and Luis Figo watching from the stands alongside Platini. Portugal went on the offensive from the very onset of the game and in the first minute itself, Cech was called into action. After an early corner, the match saw no real intent from both sides in the initial exchanges. Both the teams focused more on playing the long ball and kicking the ball out of the defensive area fitted their plan perfectly. The direction of long passes for Czech Republic and Portugal matched as both the teams looked to move the ball to the right-wing as fast as possible, looking to exploit the fullbacks who had moved forward.
Ronaldo and Nani swapped positions for the first time in the match as they looked to shrug off the man-marking. The underlying tensions between the two teams came to the fore when Nani confronted Limbersky and the two had a heated exchange before they were separated by the linesman. Czech Republic earned their first and second corner of the match just after that and playing both of the corners short showed their intent to hold on to possession. However, their wasteful attitude of playing the long ball hindered with this process, as a result of which they lost possession on multiple occasions.
Portugal Portugal Portugal
Portugal Portugal Portugal
Moutinho tried his luck but was denied. Cech saved another shot from Ronaldo as it increasingly looked like a match between Cech and Portugal. The first yellow of the match was seen by Nani as he pushed Limbersky from behind. Veloso got a card soon after for an off the ball challenge. Czech Republic were unable to build any proper attacks and while few moves did go their way, for a long time, they looked unable to create any clear-cut chances. Coentrão showed a perfect example of shielding a ball as he looked to stop Baros. Portugal finally showed some zeal going forward and Nani combined with Postiga for a fine 1-2, only to be undone by a heavy first touch from Nani.
Ronaldo was coming into his elements and a fine overhead kick followed. From a corner, Bruno Alves managed to somehow keep the ball in play which fell to Ronaldo. With his back to the goal, the Madrid star went for the spectacular, but to his dismay it went wide. His second chance came soon from a free-kick, but it was well saved by Cech, who dived to his right. Cech knew it was going to be one of those nights, when he would have to carry Czech single-handedly. The first substitution of the match came when Postiga had to replaced in the 38th minute, after he suffered an injury to his right hamstring. Hugo Almeida came on in place of him and for the rest of the night, tried his best to trouble the Czech back-line only to fail.
As minutes ran out from the first half, Ronaldo tried once more to somehow sneak one past the Czech wall – Cech. His movement troubled the defense and he found space to turn and shoot within a very short space. His glorious attempt found the near post and for a moment, the entire Portuguese crowd went into a tizzy. With chances missed right and left, Ronaldo looked skywards looking for a divine intervention.
The Second Half – Czech Republic exposed on the Right
As the second half started, both the teams looked to gain the upper hand. Almeida was the first to try his luck but his header went wide minutes after the restart. The first free-kick of the second half fell on Ronaldo and while he huffed and puffed and looked all intense in the build-up to the kick, he eventually hit the wall. His next free-kick was more successful, as he hit the post once more, as he slid the ball past a diving Cech, who was stretched to the maximum as he dived to his left.
Ronaldo and Nani swapped wings once more and Czech Republic players looked clueless for the first time. Their effort finally got some credence as Baros troubled Pepe down the middle. The former Liverpool man is way past his best but still he has it in him to trouble an organized defense. Finally a moment of joy came for the Czechs, as they attacked down the left. Pilar charged down the left, dodging his way past two defenders, but while moving inside the box, his effort was cleared to the stands.
Outplayed in the midfield, Rezek replaced Darida as Czech looked to threaten. All night, their passing game was effective till the final third. Till that point, Czech Republic were dominating the game but they lacked any sting in the final third and as a result failed to trouble Patricio, who really had little to do on the night. Ronaldo and Moutinho returned to the fore and their respective shots found the crowd. Cech added another superb save to his name when he tipped over Moutinho.
Portugal were now at their wit’s end. Having attacked the Czech back-line all night, they found a resilient Cech who was hell-bent to stop anything and everything that was thrown towards him. Portugal then went for a change in formation, switching to a 4-5-1 to deal with the increased number of legs in the midfield. Almeida stayed on top and occasionally swayed to the left side of the pitch. Ronaldo and Nani swapped positions all night, and while their short passes and trickery deceived the Czech defenders, they failed to find the back of the net.
Portugal Portugal Portugal
Portugal Portugal Portugal
Nani came closest to scoring in the 74th minute but his shot sailed past the post. 2 minutes later, Cech saved his goal-bound shot in the near post. Czech Republic soon found possession to be a rare entity as they rarely saw anything of the ball for large portions of the second half. Whenever Czech players had the ball, they were crowded out and had to resort to long balls, by which they lost possession. In that way, Portugal made sure that the threat of Baros was nullified.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Ronaldo was making headlines all night with his close misses and exasperation showed no bounds. Shouting at players, shouting at defenders, putting his hair in perfect shape, the former United star did all but score. However, all that changed in the 79th minute. Following a fast attack from the right, Ronaldo headed home a dipping ball past a hapless Cech as he ran off in his usual celebratory style. It was a tricky ball to score from, but one which is expected from a player of Ronaldo’s caliber.
After scoring, Portugal went into an overdrive and for a clear minute, Czech players never even touched the ball. Close to 20 passes were played between Portuguese players which finally ended with a familiar sight of Cech diving to save the shot. As the match came to a close, Nani was replaced by Custódio and Pekhart came on for Hubschman for Czech Republic. Meireles had a chance to increase the lead but his two-touch shot never even troubled Cech.
What was learnt from the game
- Selassie needs more confidence to face the likes or Ronaldo. His job was to mark Ronaldo as tightly as possible and only when he slipped did Ronaldo score the match-winner.
- Baros was totally ineffective down the center. He was closely marked by Pepe and other than one shot, he failed to impress.
- For most part of the match, Czech Republic relied on the wings to provide them with goals but with no target man in sight, they failed in the final third.
- Last but not the least, Limbersky, Pilar and Plasil’s movement down the left created a lot of trouble for Portugal. But this blessing turned into their weak spot, as Portugal took advantage of the advanced positions of the players to attack at will.
- It was all about Ronaldo from the beginning. His movement, trickery and guile which made him one of the most feared wingers was there for all to see and it can only be beneficial for Portugal.
- Portugal attacked more down the right flank as compared to the center of the field, with 38% of their attacks coming from the right as compared to 29% from the middle.
- Unlike Czech Republic, Portugal always had Veloso in the CM position. Central Midfield was one area where the Czechs failed to control the game and Veloso was free to distribute and build attacks.
- Portugal had a higher passing accuracy as compared to Czech Republic and they also had as many as 9 set pieces as compared to 0 from the Czechs.
All stats courtesy of whoscored.