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Portugal and the Czech Republic will kick off the knockout stages of the Euro 2012 when they meet tonight in Warsaw. This first quarter-final is anticipated by everyone, as it promises to provide goals and lots of excitement for the neutrals.
Taking a look back in history, we remember that these two met at the same stage of the competition in 1996. On 23/06/1996, in Birmingham, the Czechs won 1-0 against a Portuguese side that featured players such as Vitor Baia, Fernando Couto, Luis Figo, Rui Costa and Joao Pinto. And as we know, they made it the final, where they lost to Germany 2-1 after Oliver Bierhoff’s “golden goal.”
I’m telling you this, because 16 years ago they went through to the last 8 with a negative goal difference, as is the situation now. And they played the same opponents that they’ll have to face today. Is this fate, is this a sign? We’ll soon find out.
Funnily enough, in 1996 they faced France in the semi-finals, and if they make it through this year, they’ll play either against the French or against Spain. So as it seems, the coincidences might just be one too many.
Then again, these two met four years ago, again in a European Championship game, but on that occasion it was Portugal who were victorious, winning their Group A match 3-1.
These are, in fact, the only two meetings in history between the two sides. Portugal have played against Czechoslovakia a couple of times, but since the Czech Republic became an independent state they’ve played each other just twice.
EURO 2012 so far:
The Czechs had a nightmare start to their tournament, losing 4-1 to Russia. After this game no one expected them to win even a point, as they were really poor in this match. However, they picked themselves up and secured two wins in their next two games: 2-1 against Greece and 1-0 against Poland.
Portugal also lost their opener, a 1-0 defeat to Germany. Then they won 3-2 against Denmark in one of the best games of the tournament so far. In their last match they beat a surprisingly lacklustre Netherlands side 2-1 and thus finished second in Group B behind Germany.
Michal Bilek, the Czech Republic manager will be hoping that he’ll be able to use his star player Tomas Rosicky, who’s still having problems with his Achilles tendon. He’ll have to undergo a late fitness test which will determine whether he’s in a condition to play or not.
Paulo Bento is expected to field the same starting XI he’s been using since the start of the tournament. He doesn’t have any problems with injured or banned players, so we’ll probably be seeing him field the best he’s got.
What the managers said:
Michal Bilek: “During qualifying we put together a team. We don’t have any great stars, except for Tomáš Rosický and Petr Čech. The team spirit is excellent, and if we defeat Portugal it will be thanks to this team. We know Portugal have dangerous players in midfield and up front, such as Nani, Hélder Postiga and Ronaldo. We have that in mind, and we’ll adjust our tactics to be more defensive.”
Paulo Bento: “I think a team that played against Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands like we did will not have any problems with their mental recovery. The physical recovery has been good too.”
It has to be Portugal! They’re the better side on paper; they have better and more-experienced players. I expect a very defensive formation and style of play from the Czech Republic, and they’ll most likely be looking to counter-attack or try to find Milan Baros with long balls from their own half. On the other hand, Cristiano Ronaldo showed that he can be a true leader for his team in the game against the Netherlands, so I expect him to want to keep up his good performance from then. I say Portugal to win 2-1.