It is a curious anomaly of Euro 2008 that this evening’s match between Portugal and the Czech Republic saw, in the tournament’s ninth match, the first equalizing goal of the competition. It counted for nothing in the end, but it did at least breathe life into a match that, prior to this, had started to look as if it would be little more than a procession for Portugal, who further reinstated their case for being amongst the favourites to win the trophy outright. Both sides won their opening matches – Portugal at a canter against Turkey, the Czechs with considerable labour and no small amount of luck against Switzerland – so the only result that would beyond doubt would be that the winners would be through to the quarter-finals (barring something just shy of a miracle).
Portugal started the stronger of the two sides, and it took them just eight minutes to take the lead. For all of his artistry and jiggery pokery, it’s difficult to fault the sheer persistence of Deco, who bundled the ball over the line with Cech scrambling to get across the goal to smother it. The Czechs, however, were showing signs of being able to make a real game of it, and with Sionko looking very impressive on the wing, it was no surprise when they equalised through Sionko’s diving header. For a while, Portugal looked shaken, and it is this sort of concern that casts a shadow over their aspirations of winning the tournament. They are blessed with an embarrassment of riches up front, but defensively they still look prone to the occasional lapse and, whilst the sides with the best attacking players have flourished so far, this may not be the case to the same extent when they start playing each other. Portugal have only conceded one goal in two matches, but that’s not to say that they don’t need to tighten up.
Portugal started to asset themselves better again in the second half, and regained the lead when Cristiano Ronaldo shot in from the edge of the penalty area, though they were still not quite home and dry. Sionko pulled a very good save out of Ricardo which might have levelled things up, but Portugal eventually put the match beyond the Czechs when Quaresma rolled the ball into an empty net in the closing stages with the Czech defence having pushed forward in the search for an equalizer. With this result, Group A is interestingly poised. The Portuguese are home and dry, but the Czechs are likely to have to go into their final match needing to win against Turkey to guarantee a place in the quarter-finals. Meanwhile, Switzerland have to beat Turkey tonight and then pick up a result against Portugal go get through, but might the Portuguese be tempted to rest a few players with their place in the next round assured? Finally, a special mention for ITV’s summariser David Pleat, who is either an absurdist comedy genius or rapidly going senile. In the space of about five minutes this afternoon, he described Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s goal for Holland against Italy “a farce” (in spite of a perfectly straightforward explanation from UEFA over why it was a perfectly good goal) and called the Czech Republic “Czechoslovakia”, before correcting himself and calling them “The Republic of Czechoslovakia” instead. Almost, Dave. Almost.