Thursday, June 12, 2008

Earning the (re) cap: Ronaldo shines again

Photo: Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates with teammate Deco after the two combined for one of Portugal's three goals against the Czech Republic Wednesday (Photo from CristianoRonaldos)

Breaking down Day Five of the European Championships...

Match IX: Portugal 3, Czech Republic 1

So much of the talk about Portugal so far has been about moves taking place beyond the pitch, with the endless transfer speculation about Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid and the just-confirmed appointment of Portugal manager Luis Felipe Scolari to take over Chelsea after the championships conclude [Ben Knight has some good analysis of that move at On Soccer: Stephen Brunt also weighs in]. Their performance Wednesday against a very solid Czech team showed that they deserve lots of credit for their play on the pitch, though: they dominated the entire match, scored three brilliant goals, and ensured their qualification for the next round after Switzerland lost to Turkey in the late game. It wasn't just the Ronaldo show, either: he was great, but so was Deco and the rest of the Portuguese attack, and their defence was also reasonably solid.

As an aside: Ronaldo is showing that he's certainly a good candidate for that "best player in the world" tag, and I doubt many would argue that he's the best player in this tournament. He also seems to be adjusting to the officiating and diving less, which will undoubtedly help his appreciation worldwide. Brunt has a great column on him in today's Globe: here's the highlights.

"But the truth is, this is his moment, this is his tournament and this is his chance to add his name to the short list of players who have single-handedly stolen the show at a World Cup or European soccer championship.
Anyone doubting that possibility needed only to watch yesterday's match against the Czech Republic at the Stade de Geneve, a 3-1 win for Portugal that all but assured it a place in the Euro 2008 quarter-finals, and all but assured Ronaldo's name would again be in lights.
Ronaldo, like so many others, will take what he's given and will employ his considerable thespian talents to his team's advantage when it makes sense. They're not handing out acting awards here, though, at least not so far. So after that little tantrum on the sideline, he got up and decided to play.
Running at an opponent, there is no more dangerous player in the world. Nobody can match his footwork and speed – which, watching him live, you understand is combined with considerable strength. He'll run around and past and through just about anyone one-on-one if given the chance. And given like-minded playing partners, he'll set up as many goals as he scores."

Well said. As a diehard Manchester United fan, I certainly hope Ronaldo hangs around Old Trafford for a few more seasons, but if any player could possibly be worth a hundred million Euro transfer fee [FanHouse] and 300,000 pounds a week in salary, he's the one.

Related: Cathal Kelly also has some great lines on Ronaldo in his column [The Toronto Star]. The best one: "Portugal's bluff coach Luiz Felipe Scolari plays on both sides of the spiritual touchline.
The outspoken Brazilian is reportedly in regular contact with a sports psychologist and his parish priest from back home. He receives blessings from both via the phone.
But when he needs miracles, he goes to Cristiano Ronaldo."

Match X: Switzerland 1, Turkey 2

What bad luck for the Swiss. First, they lose a very close match that they dominated to the Czechs, and then they fall in injury time to the Turks, eliminating their chances of moving on from the group stage. There will certainly be a lot of soul-searching in the Alps, but for my money, it isn't all that necessary: with a couple of different bounces, they easily could have moved on already instead of being knocked out. A tough tournament for them, but they should hold their heads high: they put in a great fight, and things just didn't go their way. The Turks played well, but they'll have to beat the Czechs in order to move on, which may prove difficult. The real story of this one, though, was the torrential downpour it was played in, as it's always difficult to adjust to a soaking pitch.

Related: Bradley Klapper's Associated Press game story [The Toronto Star]

On tap today:

Match XI: Germany vs. Croatia (Kick-off: 12:00 ET)

This will be a key test for the Germans: can they keep up the spectacular form they displayed against Poland when they take on a stronger side in Croatia? For the Croatians, the question is if they can rebound from a lackluster performance in their opener where they only edged out Austria on an early penalty and were outplayed for much of the match. My hunch is that Croatia is a better side than they've shown so far, and the experience they've had against Germany's key players will help (a large number of the Croatians play in the German Bundesliga). However, Germany is 5-1-1 against Croatia all time, and I think they've got the talent to keep that streak of form alive.

Prediction: Germany 2, Croatia 0.

Match XII: Austria versus Poland

This one will also be interesting to watch. Austria looked much better than expected against Croatia, while Poland played well, but not particularly impressively against Germany. Both sides will really have to go for the win if they want to keep their hopes of advancing alive: a draw would put them both behind the eight-ball going into the final matches, as Germany and Croatia already both have three points and these sides would only have one apiece. The Austrians will give it a good go, but I think Poland takes this one.

Prediction: Poland 2, Austria 1.


  1. I take issue with only one thing you said. Namely, that Portugal "dominated the whole match". They were rubbish in the first half, and the Czechs were terribly unlucky not to put it away right there. Deco's goal was no-skill-all-luck. Ronaldo had a good half but he certainly wasn't shining.

    Meanwhile, at the other end, Baros was creating chances like nobody's business, and causing the maroon back four more trouble than they could handle...the Portuguese were lucky to get out of the first half with the draw.

    The Portuguese certainly had a great second half, not taking anything away from that, but they need to get on their game faster if they hope to push through the knockouts

  2. Well, to each their own: I thought Deco's goal involved plenty of skill, and the Portuguese certainly seemed on top to me in the first half as well. Perhaps my overall impression changed was influenced by how well they did in the second, but a Portugal win always looked inevitable there to me.