FOR ONE OF the biggest fixtures in world football, it is astonishing how much the build-up to this quarter-final has been completely dominated by one, single figure.
At yesterday’s pre-game press conferences, almost every question concerned him.
That, however, is because one big question remains: can he truly dominate an international stage like this?
He hasn’t yet. But then, before the Dutch game, he hadn’t scored a goal of consequence in a major tournament for eight years either.
He’s now hit two.
And, in truth, Ronaldo is really the only player on the pitch tonight who has the potential to properly liven up tonight’s match. Otherwise, it’s a contest between two relatively constrained, compact but competent sides.
Indeed, there’s an argument that Ronaldo is the only real difference between the teams in terms of overall quality too.
Certainly, their qualifying campaigns and Euro 2012 group stages have been remarkably similar: second in their groups, through the play-offs, six points at the competition so far. It was Ronaldo, however, who ultimately elevated Portugal and allowed to beat a higher calibre of team in the Netherlands.
As such, it seems that this game will really come down to whether the Czechs can negate the impact of Portugal’s number-seven. To be fair, many international teams have managed it. And coach Michal Bilek was certainly leaning that way yesterday.
“We will adjust our tactic to be more defensive.”
That is even more exaggerated, however, by the fact that it was Ronaldo’s very flank that both teams ultimately went down to arrive at the quarter-finals.
In the match that effectively overturned Group A, it was Teodor Gebre Selassie’s rampages down the Czech right that caused such problems for Greece and effectively killed that game as a contest after six minutes.
Tonight, the full-back will have to do what the Dutch didn’t and funnel Ronaldo away from goal.
If they manage that, then this is likely to be a tense, tactical game with both teams mainly playing on the counter and looking to occasionally pointedly probe. Certainly, after the introduction of Tomas Hubschman in that Greek game, the Czechs are hugely unlikely to offer up the space that Russia so exploited.
Key battle: Cristiano Ronaldo v Teodor Gebre Selassie… the strongest side of the pitch for both teams.
Key question: can Cristiano Ronaldo finally seize successive tournament games to dominate an international campaign in the manner he has done the club game? The 2012 Ballon D’Or may rest on it.
History lesson: the only other times these two teams have met came in the European Championships. In 2008, Ronaldo scored the second in a 3-1 win for Portugal. In the 1996 quarter-finals, however, Czech manager Bilek played as another number-seven – Karel Poborsky – proved the difference with an inspired lob.
Recent scoring form: Czech 1.7 goals a game; Portugal 2.8 goals a game
Recent defensive form: Czech 1 goal a game; Portugal 1.1 conceded a game
- Both sides are aiming for their first European semi-final since 2004, when the two of them eventually lost to Greece
- The Czechs have never lost a European quarter-final
- This is Portugal’s fifth successive European quarter-final
- It’s 10 years and five international competitions since Portugal failed to qualify from a group stage
- Since the European Championship went to 16 teams, Portugal and the Czech Republic are the only teams to have reached the final having lost the first game, in 1996, 2004… and potentially 2012?
Prediction: Czech Republic 1-2 Portugal