Friday, 22 June 2012

Day Fourteen

Czech Republic 0 Portugal 1

At Christmas it's the Two Ronnies, on a royal anniversary it's the Sex Pistols, and every June in even numbered years they reel out the football nostalgia docs. If you invest as much of your emotional capital in major international football tournaments as I do, they're a reliable trigger for the remembrance of things past. So seeing David Platt's winner against Belgium in 1990 on my wide screen the other night instantly took me back to the tiny telly in the Midlands pub we used to drink in back then. I can almost taste the purple nasties - a snakebite with a dash of blackcurrant, if you're wondering. I think all the cells in my body that thought that was a good idea have since been replaced.

A week later we were back in the same pub on my birthday, watching them lose to Germany on penalties. By Euro 1996 I'd moved to Bristol, and I remember seeing Croatia v Germany in a pub in the Mendips with a friend, the last time we ever did acid. Germany won despite Davor Suker's trickery and the way the grass kept moving around like that. Gives purple nasty a whole new meaning.

So there are games that become a part of your personal history, and then there are games like this one. This was the kind of game you soon realise won't be cropping up in your Euro 2020 blog. This was more like Sweden v Holland at Euro 2004, a game I must presumably have watched, but have no memory of.

Both teams normally play in red, so the Czechs took priority in the matter of shirt colour, having won their group. Portugal had to play in white instead. This will also apply tomorrow, when Greece and Germany play, as they both play in white. Germany will take precedence as goup winners, and Greece will have to defer to them and play in the away strip. I wonder how that will go down in Piraeus and Heraklion?

Although they didn't top their group, Portugal were still favourites. If you don't know anything about football, and apart from me who does, you could still work out why just by rating the players' clubs by budget. Portugal's starting 11 play for clubs like Real Madrid, Porto and Man Utd. Most of the Czech players play for teams like Bordeaux, or Besiktas. Perfectly good clubs, with a strong record in Europe, but not at the very top of the European club scene. They can afford decent B-list players, but they're not world class, not galacticos, like Ronaldo or Nani.

The referee was Howard Webb, an Englishman, as the commentator was keen to let us know. Brooks no nonsense from players, Howard Webb, he said. I'm not so sure about that. Webb refereed the last World Cup Final, and I seem to recall him brooking rather more nonsense from Holland than most observers thought he should have brooked.

Once we got going, it was the Ronaldo show again. Six of Portugal's first ten attempts on goal came from him, and nearly all the close ones.

The first real chance fell to him, as he muscled ahead of the defence to get his shot in. It was well saved, and the ref gave a foul against him anyway, but it was an ominous sign for the Czechs.

A few minutes later he had another go, with an overhead kick after a poor defensive clearance came straight back in again. It flew wide. Then his free kick attempt, well hit, went a yard wide.

Meanwhile, Miguel Veloso was booked for a poor tackle on Darida. At least that was the official reason, but I noticed the back of his shirt said Miguel, not Veloso, so hopefully he was partly booked for that. You never saw Trevor Brooking poncing about in a shirt that said Trevor, did you? Think on, young man.

On 38 minutes, Postiga's hamstring seemed to go. They stretchered him off, and brought Almeida on. He's out of the semi-final, but might be back for the final if they get there. They'll miss him.

On 43 minutes there was a reasonable shout for a Portuguese penalty, when the defender clearly had a hold of Nani's arm in the box. Martin Keown thought it was a dive, as he only had it for a second, but if you ask me holding for a second is holding.

In first half injury time Ronaldo nearly scored. The ball came into the box, he did some of his technicolour jiggery pokery to get clear of Kadlec, and his shot hit the post. Keown commented that he could have had three or four, but it was very noticeable that he hadn't.

The second half continued in similar vein. Ronaldo had another free kick, and hit the post again. It looked like Cech might have just tipped it, but the replay showed there was no contact. Goal kick.

The Czechs seemed at times to be struggling with their defensive clearances. There are three basic techniques for a clearance: the measured pass to a teammate, the forward hoof up the pitch and the lateral hoof to row Z. If you're passing to a teammate you'd better be sure it gets there, if you're hoofing it you try to avoid the vertical hoof, in which the ball goes a long way up before coming back down right where it started from. Limbersky in particular seemed to struggle with these fairly basic guidelines.

Almeida had the ball in the net immediately afterwards, heading home from a Nani cross, but was offside. Always a joy to see those forwards running offside, said Martin Keown. You aren't a proper BBC commentator until you know how to act up to your image.

After a flurry of positive Czech moves, the next big chance was Portugal's. Moutinho got the ball, wasn't closed down quick enough and his shot was well saved.

It was all too much for Cech, who punched his teammate Kadec in the head and kneed him in the ribs. Simultaneously, which is actually quite athletic. He made it look like he was going for the ball, but I think he reckoned his defence needed a breather. Except Kadec, who needed to breathe a little less. I love to see keepers coming for those, said Keown. They always lead with the knee, and it's usually the defenders that come off worst. Now there speaks a man who doesn't have to defend any more.

He's a man who know which side his bread is buttered on, is Keown. I remember during the World Cup he was commentating on a New Zealand game, and he wasn't in any way backwards in coming forward to do the coverage for their next qualifying campaign. Fiji, Vanuatu, the Solomons, there was nowhere he wouldn't let us fly him.

On 75 minutes, Nani broke through and so nearly scored. Kadlec just got a slight deflection on it, and it flashed over the bar with Cech nowhere. You thought they'd never score.

Then they scored. Moutinho made the run, and got the cross in. Ronaldo got across Selassie, put his head to it and directed it down. It wasn't actually his best effort of the game. Down is the right place to put it, but it bounced slightly too early, and passed the keeper at a savable height. Fortunately for Portugal it was fast enough to beat Cech's diving reach.

The commentator took the opportunity to go off on one about Ronaldo, as they do like to. Apparently if you include Real's pre-season fixtures last summer he's played almost 12 months of continuous football, and you have to give him credit for that. I'd probably have nodded off by September at the latest.

Pereira had a good shot, with a chance to finish things off, but the keeper saved well. The Portuguese manager decided to put safety first, and brought on defensive midfielder Custodio for Nani. Yes, Custodio. Or Custodio Miguel Dias de Castro, to give him his full name. Now you know what I said about Miguel Veloso above, so you know what I affect to think on the subject of players putting their first name on their shirts, but if you're a defensive midfielder whose real name is Custodio there may be some excuse.

With three minutes left, Ronaldo fell over in the box and appealed for a penalty. Just like old times. The commentator tried to sugggest he'd been impeded, but Keown brushed the suggestion aside like Norman Hunter squashing a recalcitrant striker.

The Czechs only managed two efforts all game, but when they got a corner in injury time their fans still cheered loyally. Even Cech went up for it, but they didn't manage a strike on goal and he had to scamper back as fast as his little legs would carry him. Limbersky intercepted the Portuguese breakout, giving us one last chance to namecheck him and mention the way he's had me thinking about cheese every time they play, but the whistle blew and the Czechs were on their way home. Which is at least quite close.

Portugal face the longest journey home of any team at the Championships. But not yet.

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