Today at Euro 2012: Czech Republic v Portugal

 

Czech Republic v Portugal

The Czech Republic midfielder Petr Jiracek says his team are under pressure to emulate the success of the side who nearly won Euro 96, ahead of tonight's quarter-final against Portugal.

"The Czech team had such a good name and now people expect us to reach the final every time. So, maybe we're at a bit of a disadvantage," said Jiracek, who has put in a string of impressive performances during the tournament. "We're trying to achieve the same success."

It is likely that the Czech captain, Tomas Rosicky, described as "irreplaceable" by his coach, Michal Bilek, will again miss out as he battles against an Achilles problem.

The Arsenal midfielder trained for the first time yesterday and faces a late fitness test. The outlook according to the Czech sports manager, Vladimir Smicer, is blea, though.

"For him to play in such a tough match, he should at the very least have had three full training sessions to be 100 per cent ready," Smicer said.

The Czechs recovered from a galling 4-1 opening day defeat by Russia to top Group A while their opponents finished second to Germany in Group B. That was largely down to Cristiano Ronaldo scoring twice to seal a 2-1 win over the Netherlands.

Midfielder Raul Meireles admitted the fully fit Portugal squad rely on the Real Madrid forward's leadership.

"The important thing is that Ronaldo is one of the most professional players I have ever come across," Meireles said. "He is our leader and there is no one who wants to win more than him.

"We'll be trying to prove that the favourites don't have to necessarily always win."

Kick-off 7.45pm, Warsaw (BBC 1) Ref H Webb (Eng) Odds: Czech Republic 9-2 Draw 5-2 Portugal 8-11

Player to watch: Joao Moutinho, Portugal

Portugal's 2-1 defeat of the Netherlands may have surprised some, but a team that gets the best out of its players will usually beat one that does not. Coach Paulo Bento has created a coherent, well-balanced system and it has Joao Moutinho at its heart.

The 25-year-old Porto midfielder has been excellent, orchestrating Portugal's best attacks, playing perfect passes through for Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani to bound dangerously on to. The winning goal on Sunday came when Moutinho played a ball to Nani, who took it without breaking stride before crossing to Ronaldo, who scored.

It was not Moutinho's first assist of the tournament. In the 3-2 win over Denmark, his perfect corner was headed in by Pepe. Moutinho's technical quality, passing range and vision have made him Portugal's most influential player.

There is a natural division of labour in Bento's midfield. Miguel Veloso destroys, Raul Meireles runs and Moutinho creates. He is Portugal's leading passer, having completed 105 passes – 27 more than the next best, Veloso, and with the best accuracy at 87.5 per cent.

Should this authoritative form continue it would mark the fulfilment of a talent which has been promising much for years. Moutinho emerged as a brilliant teenager for Sporting Lisbon; a regular at 19, captain at 20. Two summers ago he cut his ties to move to Porto. There, under Andre Villas-Boas, he helped to achieve the domestic double and Europa League successes which propelled his manager, although not Moutinho himself, to Chelsea.

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