Having written them off pre-tournament, I now Portugal down as third favourites to win Euro 2012 (behind Germany and Spain). And here’s why.
Despite failing to keep a clean sheet in any of their three games in this tournament, I think their defence improves starting from this evening. Czech Republic have scored 4 goals in their 3 games so have something going for them in attack, but I believe the Portuguese can shut them out.
Portugal conceded just 1 goal in their 4 games at the 2010 World Cup, which included clean sheets against Brazil and the Ivory Coast. Pepe is playing really well at the back, alongside Bruno Alves. The concerns are with the full-backs who like to bomb forward, and both do have an assist to their name from the group stage.
There’s not much room for opponents to attack down the middle against Portugal. With the aforementioned centre backs, along with three centre midfielders who don’t give up much; Raul Meireles, Joao Moutinho and Miguel Veloso, Czech Republic will need to go down the wings this evening. The prospect of a semi-final with Spain makes for an interesting match up with the Spaniards have little width themselves.
Going forward, Cristiano Ronaldo found his shooting boots against the Netherlands in their final group game. The Real Madrid forward came close to finishing the match with a hat trick. Expecting the Czech Republic to setup defensively in this match, you still cannot rule out Ronaldo from adding to his goal tally in this match. Currently at 4/1 to win the Golden Boot.
In support of Ronaldo is club team mate Fabio Coentrao who likes to attack from left full-back, as a former winger himself. They come up against Theodor Gebre Selassie who has looked good going forward in this tournament but will have more defensive duties than attacking in this evening’s match.
Nani has look menacing down the right wing also. So Portugal have attacking threat from both wings. Although yet to show his shooting boots in this tournament, the Manchester United winger is capable of scoring himself. Supporting him is Valencia’s newly-signed right full-back Joao Pereira who’s also looked good going forward in this tournament.
The weakest point of the Portuguese side is their central striker. Ronaldo has played there, but Helder Postiga is starting there in the quarter-final match. His goalscoring record is actually better at international level than club football. Has not looked like scoring in Euro 2012. Substitute Nelson Oliveira is young and yet to prove himself.
Portugal will beat the Czech Republic tonight. Their odds have dropped from 1.8 to 1.7 since I tipped them yesterday. The absence of Tomas Rosicky and Daniel Kolar may have made a small impact on that, but I think it’s more a case of everyone realising Portugal are playing much better football. They also progressed from a much more difficult group.