Cristiano Ronaldo’s 79th minute header was the culmination of Portugal’s attacking team movement. A sequence and finish worthy of propelling Portugal into the semi finals of Euro2012.
As Nani picked up the ball from the right, the Czech defense (which had been resolute and compact all game) finally left a bit too much space open in the inner channel on the right hand side.
These inner lanes seem to be where the majority of goals are originating from in this tournament and today proved no different. While Nani had two players watching him, the supporting defender in the Czech triangle was too far back creating that space for João Moutinho, who made a late breaking run from the center of midfield.
As Moutinho curled in a delightful ball, Ronaldo gave an exhibition of predatory movement inside the 18. With Gebre Selassie looking at the ball, Ronaldo quietly drifted behind his back shoulder before flashing in front of him to bury his header beyond Peter Cech.
The goal was a microcosm of Portugal’s strength throughout the tournament. Offensively, the Selecção do not offer anything down the middle. The only time they are strong in the center of the park is when either Ronaldo or Nani drift inside to combine with the otherwise impertinent central striker.
For the most part, this suited the Czech Republic well as they were content to let Portugal play on the flanks and repel the crosses. By cutting inside, Portugal were able to diversify their attack.
The Czech’s held on with compact numbers in the box, forcing Portugal to try and carve out an opening A LA Spain in and around the top of the box. As a result, the best chance of the first half came in stoppage time from a long ball for Ronaldo (the only time the Czech lines were stretched), only for the post to come to Cech’s rescue.
Tomas Hubschmann and Jaroslav Plasil were excellent in the holding midfield roll for the Czechs, but with Tomas Rosicky injured and Milan Baros ineffective up front, the Eastern Europeans were similar to Portugal in that their greatest attacking threat was always going to come from the wide areas via Vaclav Pilar and Petr Jiracek.
With only 44% of the ball and dealing mostly with defensive duties, however, the Czech’s never really had a chance to fashion any flowing moves. In fact, their most dangerous forays forward were almost always created individually with mazy dribbling runs into the final third.
With the Portuguese continuing to come in wave after wave of attack, something had to give. Nani and Ronaldo’s constant movement inside and then out meant space would eventually open up on the wings and two clever runs finally broke Czech resistance.
First Moutinho’s excellently delayed bursting run from the midfield into the channel, and then Ronaldo’s disappearing and reappearing in an instant, to score a winner that should be studied by aspiring strikers in the academies for years to come.
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