Wary Czechs check out Ronaldo threat
21 Jun, Euro 2012 (quarter-final): Czech Republic v Portugal (Warsaw, 7.45 UK)
Whatever transpires in Warsaw, the opening quarter-final of Euro 2012 is likely to revolve around Cristiano Ronaldo. Will he be hot, hot, hot … as he was when scoring twice in the 2-1 win over Holland? Or will he be not, not, not … as he fired a succession of blanks during Portugal’s previous games against Germany and Denmark?
And already, the Czech Republic – their coach, players and media – appear obsessed with how the iconic and back-to-form Real Madrid striker might affect the last-eight clash, which will be refereed by Englishman Howard Webb. Portugal may boast other game-changers but Ronaldo seems central to everything in the pre-match build-up.
“The last time I played against him was when he was at Manchester United,” Petr Cech, the Czech and Chelsea goalkeeper, said. “His shots are tremendously powerful and he can shoot with both feet. He hits the target in almost every situation and is an excellent header of the ball. He’s the perfectly equipped footballer. We hope he is not going to score against us. None of us want him to succeed.”
Vaclav Pilar, the Czech and Viktoria Plzen winger, continued the Ronaldo theme. “I always hoped we’d play Portugal in the quarter-final,” Pilar said. “Everybody is looking forward to playing against such a great player. These matches are a reward that one has to enjoy.”
And Michal Bilek, the coach, also. “Ronaldo tries to shoot from all positions with very powerful shots, which is why he’s one of the best goalscorers in the world,” Bilek said. “But he is not the only good player in the team. They know how to capitalise on the space he creates for others.”
Bilek’s main injury worry is Tomas Rosicky, who has an Achilles tendon problem. The captain of the surprise Group A winners flew to Prague last weekend for treatment. Daniel Kolar replaced Rosicky in the playmaking role during the 1-0 victory over co-hosts Poland in Wroclaw on Saturday.
With Ronaldo resurgent, team-mate Raul Meireles believes that Portugal, the Group B runners-up, can go on to win the tournament – and he is drawing on inspiration from his team, Chelsea, taking the Champions League title after their penalty shoot-out success against Bayern Munich last season.
“Chelsea won the Champions League when nobody considered them as favourites,” Meireles said. “When we began this tournament, nobody mentioned Portugal as one of the favourites, either. The best example for me is what I experienced with Chelsea in the Champions League. If we manage to do the same, it will be the realisation of a dream.
“There are no favourites, really, because Germany and Holland were the favourites in our group and we qualified. We have watched some of the Czech games. Like us, they didn’t begin very well [Portugal lost 1-0 to Germany, the Czechs 4-1 to Russia] but they reacted brilliantly to it. We are expecting a difficult match but we are going to do everything we can to neutralise their strong points.”
Meireles also defended Ronaldo against the early criticism he received. “In football, things don’t always go as you want them to,” he said. “The important thing is that Ronaldo is one of the most professional players I have ever come across. He gives his all at every training session. He is our leader and, on the pitch, there is no one who wants to win more than him. He scored twice in the last match; before, he had drawn a blank, but he had still helped us out in other ways.”
Prediction: Czech Republic 0, Portugal 2