June 20, 2012
Czechs no match for peaking Portugal
By MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency
WARSAW - The Portuguese have caught a whiff of the semifinals.
But they'd better be careful or the Czech Republic might punch them right in the nose.
The Portuguese are feeling good and they have every right to that feeling. They are playing the Czech Republic on Wednesday in the first Euro 2012 quarterfinal and that's one reason for confidence. Portugal also happens to be playing as well as anyone else at Euro.
The Czechs are one of the surprise teams to advance to the second round. They were mauled by Russia in the group opener and looked ready to check out after that.
But they came back to win their next two games.
That's where the danger lies for the Portuguese.
The Czechs have proved to be a resilient bunch, although they aren't playing particularly inspiring soccer. They lull their opponents to sleep and then pounce.
Portugal isn't about to go nappies.
There is no way it should lose to the Czech Republic.
Portugal has far more talent, but that's like saying it hurts to get hit on the side of the head with a shovel. It's obvious.
But Portugal is also defending as well as it is attacking and is rounding into form at the right time.
It's only stumble was a loss to the Germans. But even that had its upside. Portugal was playing for a tie against the Germans. When the Germans took the lead Portugal went after them in a fury and was unfortunate not to tie the game. The next two games for the Portuguese were magnificent displays off offensive soccer. Against Denmark, they showed the kind of grit they hadn't shown in recent international tournaments.
Portugal didn't pack up its bags and quit after falling behind or giving up a key goal. That is a sign of mental preparedness and a willingness to pay the price to win.
That's a step that takes the Portuguese from wimps, something they've been called numerous times, to winners.
Their win over the Dutch was a signal to every other team that they are for real.
And it's more than just Cristiano Ronaldo. Most tournaments it's Ronaldo this and Ronaldo that. He said this, he said that. His hair is styled this way or that way.
He's a bellwether and a lightning rod. Some problems he brings upon himself, but it must be frustrating to have to deal with the constant expectations game in and game out.
While Ronaldo does his share of flopping like a dying mackerel, he also gets kicked about as much as anybody. That, too, has to be frustrating.
The dissection of Ronaldo becomes tedious and at times unnecessary.
Ronaldo may be able to win a game for you but not even he can win a tournament on his own.
When he was busy being invisible during the first two games of group play, other players stepped up. Defensively it was Pepe and Bruno Alves. Raul Meireles has done a ton of work and super-sub Silvestre Varela has scored twice coming off the bench.
Given the nature of Euro tournaments, nothing is ever a certainty.
This is how this game should go down. The Czech will look to survive. The longer they go without getting scored on the more confident they'll grow.
Right now, the Portuguese have too much going to be swept aside. They'll cancel the Czechs.