The Czech Republic face a huge challenge in their quarter-final match against Portugal: stopping Cristiano Ronaldo.
Euro 2012: Cristiano Ronaldo represents Czechs' biggest test
WROCLAW, POLAND // The Czech Republic face a huge challenge in their quarter-final match against Portugal: stopping Cristiano Ronaldo.
In Petr Cech, the Czechs have one of the world's best goalkeepers. Since his international debut more than 10 years ago, Cech, 29, has become as dominant for the national team as he has been for Chelsea since joining the English Premier League club in 2004.
But even Cech in goal might not be enough to halt the Portuguese attack, led by Ronaldo, who scored two goals on Sunday to send Holland home.
Before moving from Manchester United to Real Madrid, Ronaldo beat Cech with a header in the 2008 Champions League final and also scored a goal and set up another in Portugal's 3-1 win at the group stage of Euro 2008 despite Cech's presence.
"With Chelsea, we always carefully prepared for the matches against Manchester United," Cech said. "It's crucial not to give him space because his speed is exceptional."
The Czechs lost heavily to Russia in their first game, but defeated Greece and Poland. Now, the hope is to reach the semi-finals for the first time since 2004. The players say they are doing the maximum to make it happen and have even stopped shaving after winning their first match. But they will need more than their new look to help them in the quarter-final.
"We've passed two huge tests," Cech said. "We came back and have a chance to equal our success from Portugal in 2004.
"We just need to win one more game. It's sport and anything can happen."
In the match against Holland, Ronaldo rediscovered his scoring touch and reproduced the form he showed in a 60-goal club season for Real Madrid.
The right-back Theodor Gebre Selassie will be the primary defender against Ronaldo.
If the Czech defensive plans go well, the match could be decided in a penalty shoot-out, an area Cech specialises in.
He was the hero of the Champions League final against Bayern Munich, saving penalties from Arjen Robben in regulation time and Ivica Olic and Bastian Schweinsteiger in the shoot-out.
He also saved Ronaldo's penalty in the shoot-out in the 2008 Champions league final.
"But he [Ronaldo] won so I don't think he cared much about it," Cech said. "The final result is what counts. If Ronaldo scores from the spot and we still advance, I don't care."
* Associated Press
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