Czechs ready for PortugalBy: KAREL JANICEK
WROCLAW – Tonight Czech Republic faces a huge challenge in a European Championship quarterfinal against Portugal: to stop Cristiano Ronaldo.
In Petr Cech, the Czechs have one of the best goalkeepers on earth. Since his international debut more than 10 years ago as a 19-year-old rookie, Cech has become as dominant for the national team as he has been for Chelsea since joining the English club in 2004.
But even Cech in goal might not be enough to halt the lethal Portuguese attack led by Ronaldo, who scored two goals Sunday to send home the Netherlands.
Cech said the entire team must contribute to the huge task of stopping Ronaldo in Warsaw on Thursday.
“I’ve faced him in many matches and I can use my experience from them, but it is crucial for us to work as a team to succeed,” Cech said. “He’s a player who works hard to get better and he’s got a powerful shot.
“He’s dangerous because he is able to shoot with both the right and left foot from any position.”
The Czechs were almost written off from Euro 2012 following a 4-1 loss to Russia, but a pair of wins over Greece and Poland put them through to the quarterfinals.
Now, the hope is to reach the semifinals for the first time since 2004. They say they are doing the maximum to make it happen and even have stopped shaving after winning the first match. But they will need more than their new look to help them in the quarterfinal.
“We’ve passed two huge tests,” Cech said. “We came back and have a chance to equal our success from Portugal (in 2004). We just need to win one more game. It’s sport and anything can happen.”
In the match against the Netherlands, Ronaldo rediscovered his scoring touch and reproduced the form he showed in a 60-goal club season.
Paulo Bento’s Portugal have got where they are thanks to their team ethic and after seeing Ronaldo finally click into gear in Sunday’s game against the hapless Dutch to score both goals in the 2-1 win.
They have been accused of creating a cult of personality around their 27-year-old captain but the team have circled the wagons in the face of what they see as unjustified criticism.
Real Madrid centre-back Pepe resumed training on Tuesday after sitting it out on Monday with sore ankles.
The news is not so good for the Czechs, though, with captain Tomas Rosicky set to miss out as he struggles to recover from an inflamed Achilles tendon.
“Will he be able to play from the start? I don’t think so,” said Czech team manager Vladimir Smicer.
“He hasn’t trained for eight days, only doing some work on a bike.”
Rosicky had been receiving treatment in Prague since Sunday but is now back with the squad in Warsaw.
But the Czechs are no strangers to difficulties, not least in this competition which they began by being mauled 4-1 by Russia.
And much-maligned coach Michal Bilek believes the tough times they have endured together has made them stronger.