SPORT

Crucial tie for Portugal, Czech Republic

Winner has the chance to book a berth for the quarterfinals from Group A

NEUCHATEL (Switzerland): Full of confidence after opening wins, Portugal and the Czech Republic meet on Wednesday with a chance to book a quarterfinal berth at the European Championship.

Portugal is fresh after a solid 2-0 victory over Turkey, while the Czech Republic comes boosted by a difficult 1-0 win over co-host Switzerland. The winner at Stade de Geneve will move into a good position to advance from Group ‘A’, which is currently led by Portugal on goal difference.

The Portuguese impressed more than the Czechs in the opener, with Cristiano Ronaldo and teammates applying pressure on the Turks from the beginning and staying in control throughout the match in Geneva.

Gaining confidence

A pre-tournament favourite, Portugal gained even more confidence with the victory, and its huge fan base in Switzerland is more optimistic than ever. However, players are trying to be cautious.

“We have to prepare the same way. It’s another extremely important match,” midfielder Joao Moutinho said. “We know it’s a decisive match. If we get a good result it’s almost certain we will advance from the group.”

If Switzerland and Turkey draw their match in Basel, the winner of the Portugal-Czech Republic match will automatically advance to the second round.

“We don’t underestimate the Czechs; we respect them a lot,” midfielder Deco said. “We know it is going to be just as difficult, or even more, than against Turkey. The fact they had difficulties in the first match doesn’t mean anything.”

The Czech Republic, which reached the semifinals at Euro 2004, opened with an unimpressive 1-0 victory over Switzerland in Basel on Vaclav Sverkos’ first international goal.

“Portugal is in a different class than Switzerland,” midfielder Libor Sionko said. “We have to improve a great deal.”

Pospech recovers

Czech Republic coach Karel Bruckner, who conceded Portugal is a favourite in Group ‘A’, will have all 23 players available for Wednesday’s match after right back Zdenek Pospech recovered from a virus and resumed training on Sunday.

The Czechs are hoping for a repeat of the 1996 European tournament when they eliminated Portugal in the quarterfinals with a goal by Karel Poborsky in extra time.

The Czechs eventually lost in the final to Germany 2-1, also in extra time, in the team’s best finish in the competition so far.

“What is clear is the winner (Wednesday) will advance,” Czech Republic goalkeeper Petr Cech said.

“I’m sure six points will be enough to advance from this group. Both teams will go for a win, (but) even if the match ends in a draw it would be a good result for both sides.”

This year Bruckner is without star playmaker Tomas Rosicky, who was dropped from the Euro 2008 squad last month after undergoing an operation on his left knee.

Same starting 11

Portugal coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, who led Portugal to the semifinals in Germany, is set to use the same starting 11 from the opener against the Turks.

A spot is guaranteed for by Brazil-born defender Pepe, who scored the decisive goal in the 61st minute. — AP