Cristiano Ronaldo was the difference maker for Portugal, heading home the only goal in a 1-0 win over the Czech Republic to book his team's place in the semi-finals. Portugal will now face the winner of the quarterfinal match between Spain and France.
The Czech Republic did a valiant job of defending for much of the match, and were particularly impressive in the opening 45 minutes. Both Tomas Hubschman and Jaroslav Plasil did an outstanding job of protecting the back four and denying space in which Portugal's attacking players could operate.
But as the second half wore on, it was clear that the Czechs had little energy in reserve for them to go forward and attack Portugal. In fact, Rui Patricio, Portugal's goalkeeper didn't have a save to make all game, as the Czech Republic failed to get an effort on target. It was as comfortable a defensive performance as Portugal could have wanted.
Offensively, it was always going to be difficult for Portugal to break down the Czechs, but after a clever run from Moutinho saw him find space to cross into the penalty area from the right side, Ronaldo showed why he is arguably the best player in world football.
Rather than compressing the space at the back post – making it easy for Theodor Gebre Selassie to mark him – Ronaldo held his run until the moment Moutinho delivered his cross into the penalty area. Ronaldo then took off like a shot, and his momentum carried him beyond Gebre Selassie – who was caught flat-footed – where Ronaldo was able to plant a firm, downward header beyond Petr Cech in the Czech Republic goal.
It was the least that Portugal – and Ronaldo – deserved for their dominance.
While many expected Portugal to have an easy time against the Czech Republic, they were made to work for their victory. That they didn't become frustrated and try to win the game as individuals is a credit to the team's togetherness. Joao Moutinho was impressive in midfield, constantly probing with intelligent passes in the attacking half of the field. Miguel Veloso and Raul Meireles provided protection in front of the back four, and while the latter seemed to have lost his shooting boots today, it was encouraging to see Meireles get into advanced positions to have attempts on goal.
One criticism that I have of Portugal's squad is that they do not have a traditional playmaker in their squad, someone who can dictate play from an advanced central position. Although Moutinho certainly made up for it today, against the top teams in the tournament, I fear that they will not be able to impose their will on their opponent.
This has often left critics to turn on Ronaldo, which can be unfair to say the least. Even someone of Ronaldo's ability cannot score unless he receives service, and it is not possible for him to be both provider and finisher in the same instance.
So the performance of Moutinho today is of particular interest. Can he be the provider from midfield that Portugal desperately requires? An impending semi-final match up with either Spain or France will require the presence of a midfield maestro if Portugal is going to continue its run at EURO 2012. Perhaps Moutinho can be just the player that Portugal needs to reach the final.