Meireles starts on left again: After switching Meireles and Moutinho partway through the game against Germany, Bento started with Meireles on the left against the Czech Republic. The idea is to put the more attack-minded midfielder on Ronaldo’s side, as Portugal have increasingly come to rely on Ronaldo more and more as this tournament has progressed. In truth this didn’t work so well in this match as Ronaldo has begun to drift infield (more on this below), and the Moutinho/Nani wing was more productive against the Czechs, resulting in Moutinho getting the assist for the only goal with a burst from deep to the byline late on.
Czech Republic offer no resistance: Rosicky didn’t recover from injury in time for this match, so the Czechs had very little creativity in midfield. Pilar has been outstanding in this tournament, but had probably his quietest game so far, with an exceptional run down the left in the second half being his only notable contribution. It was a shame, as many had expected this match to be more interesting than it ended up being, as the Czechs didn’t test Rui Patricio once.
Ronaldo is Ronaldo, again: As the tournament has progressed, Portugal have descended from a balanced attacking team to a side purely set up to feed Ronaldo. He now has licence to roam behind Postiga at will, who is reduced to simply making runs to try and draw defenders out of Ronaldo’s way. This has negated the threat that Ronaldo was providing on the left, meaning that the opposition right back is now rarely in a position to have to deal with Ronaldo running at him in a one-on-one. It has also tied the fortunes of Portugal to one man who, despite all the posturing when he knows the cameras are on him, has been nearly as profligate as he has been selfish. Again he scored the vital goal, but again it was his single attempt on target of eight usually more wayward shots, and his performance was summed up by an excellent chest down and turn just before half time, when instead of rolling the ball across to Almeida to tap into an open net from six yards out, he knew he’d be in a shout for goal of the tournament if he finished it off and so volleyed it from a tight angle against the outside of the post.
This is a dangerous development from Portugal, which has worked to this point because a) Ronaldo hasn’t been marked out of the game, and b) Portugal have been allowed to create enough chances for Ronaldo to miss before he finally tucks one away. As the tournament progresses, both of these are likely to change, and Portugal will need creativity from a non-Ronaldo source if they are going to cause problems.
A disappointingly one-sided affair which in truth should have been a lot more emphatic a victory for Portugal than it eventually was. The Czechs offered no threat to Rui Patricio at all, with their attacking intent neatly surmised by sending Cech up for a corner at the death – even if the ball had fallen to him, a header could have gone in any direction off his ridiculous angular headwear.
Portugal have now played two teams in a row which have been not much better than woeful, and find themselves in the semi finals. But Portugal themselves haven’t needed to be exceptional, and have made it through despite developing their team around a player who has missed plenty more great chances than he has tucked away. If they play France in the semis, perhaps they might even reach the final, but Spain, or Germany/Italy in the final will not allow Portugal to play in the way they did here – chances will be few and far between, more attention will be paid to Ronaldo, and opportunities will need to be taken.