Czech Republic 0 Portugal 1: Cristiano Ronaldo stars again
What lessons did we learn after Cristiano Ronaldo produced an electric display to help Portugal to a 1-0 win against the Czechs?
Can Coentrão replace Cole as world’s best left-back?
For the past seven or eight years, Ashley Cole has widely been recognised as the best left-back around, but the 31-year-old is enjoying his Indian summer, earmarked by his eye-catching performance in Chelsea’s Champions League final victory. Cole’s heir apparent could well be Portuguese defender Fábio Coentrão. Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho parted with €30m (£24.5m) to lure the left-back to the Spanish capital from Benfica. The 24-year-old has only recently blossomed and he made a stuttering start to his career after initially being described as one of the most exciting prospects in 2007. Coentrão joined Benfica from Rio Ave but spent loan spells at four different clubs before finally carving out a reputation, leading to a move to Madrid. He may have only started 11 La Liga games this season, but his future is undoubtedly bright at the Bernabeu. Against the Czech Republic, he showcased his ability to go past opposition defenders with alarming ease, linking up with club-mate Cristiano Ronaldo on several occasions in the first half. But while there is no doubting Coentrão’s ability to cause opponents plenty of problems, question marks linger over his defensive capabilities – similar to England’s Glen Johnson. However, under Mourinho, expect the Portugal defender to excel and improve defensively. He could well fulfil that early promise and succeed Cole.
Ronaldo delivers again
Fresh from a match-winning performance in Portugal’s 2-1 victory over the Netherlands, Ronaldo would have been desperate to keep the momentum going prior to the last-eight tie against the Czechs. The 27-year-old was denied a first-half goal by an imposing Petr Cech, and when the Chelsea goalkeeper was finally beaten, the woodwork denied the Real Madrid forward. In the 25th minute, Ronaldo cut in-field with Theodor Gebre Selassie shadowing his run, the Portugal captain played a square pass to João Moutinho, who timed his return ball to perfection, with the former Manchester United striker unleashing a powerful shot which was beaten away by Cech. On the stroke of half-time, Ronaldo shrugged off the attentions of a Czech defender to control Raul Meireles’ diagonal ball on his chest and swivel in one sublime motion, before shooting impulsively – Cech was finally beaten by an outrageous piece of skill but the goalkeeper’s right post came to his rescue. Not to be dissuaded after a frustrating opening period, Ronaldo continued his unplayable form and he fired a fizzing free-kick which struck the post. Finally, in the 79th minute, a tenacious display was rewarded with a goal. HE met Moutinho’s cross with a superb diving header to book Portugal’s place in the semi-finals.
Chelsea’s Cech in top form
Cech’s record at European championships is certainly mixed, with the 30-year-old boasting a history of making uncharacteristic mistakes on the international stage. The Chelsea goalkeeper, earning his 94th cap against Portugal, was both an assured and commanding presence, with his performance only eclipsed by Ronaldo. In the group stage, he was roundly criticised for a sloppy error against Greece. The Czechs went on to complete a 2-1 victory but another howler in successive European championships led to inevitable analysis of Cech’s big-game temperament – the former Rennes keeper made a similar error at Euro 2008, with Turkey’s Nihat the beneficiary on that occasion. But this was arguably his best display at a major tournament. In the first half, Cech showed courage to race out to meet Ronaldo and instinctively beat away a rasping effort. The onslaught on Cech’s goal continued after the interval, but the Chelsea shot-stopper proved capable, getting the slightest of touches on Ronaldo’s free-kick before palming Moutinho’s long-range effort over his crossbar. He showed great command of his area to race off his line and claim a looping cross, clattering his team-mate Michal Kadlec in the process of gathering the ball. There was little Cech could do to prevent Ronaldo’s winner, but perhaps the ghosts of 2008 have finally been banished.
Ronaldo could usurp Spain
Assuming Spain get past France, Vicente Del Bosque’s side will face Portugal. It promises to be an enthralling Iberian derby between the world champions and a side containing arguably the best player in the world. He did make a stuttering start but since that opening goal against the Netherlands, the Madrid forward has been supreme. Paulo Bento will be forced to set his side up to cope with relentless probing attacks from Spain but Portugal will be a threat on the counter-attack. And not just because of Ronaldo; his former United team-mate Nani and Coentrão also have the potential to punish sluggish defences. In 1986, Diego Maradona catapulted Argentina to World Cup triumph in what was his coronation as the world’s best. Ronaldo has won every accolade in club football. He has the chance to finally outdo his nemesis Lionel Messi and guide his country to glory to guarantee his place in the pantheon of footballing gods.