Thursday, June 21
By Nick Ames in Warsaw
Phase two of Euro 2012 is underway.
I’ve just arrived in Warsaw after an 18-hour journey from Kiev, shared with an array of interesting characters on the overnight train. The purpose of this visit: to cast an eye over Tomas Rosicky’s Czech Republic side in their quarter-final with Portugal.
The odds on Tomas being involved appear to have shortened since this time yesterday – although I might not recognise him even if he does start the game. He and his team-mates have taken to growing beards for the duration of their stay in the tournament, and they’ll be hoping that there’s no need for a shave just yet.
The Czechs have a big task on their hands against a Portugal side that has, by and large, been impressive so far. Turn up and perform as they did in their opener against Russia and they’ll stand little chance of getting through, but their win over the Poles in Group A’s decider – in which they nullified the hosts’ threat and attacked with increasing confidence – provides hope.
A fit Tomas could be crucial – as could another good performance from Vaclav Pilar, the left winger who has been one of the tournament’s stars so far to my mind.
At first glance, Warsaw seems cleaner cut than any of the Ukrainian cities I visited – although I’m looking forward to, hopefully, returning to Kiev in a couple of days.
On my agenda for next week is to visit Arsenal Kiev, who finished fifth in the Ukrainian top flight last season. With any luck, I’ll also head down to Bila Tserkva (‘White Church’), a town two hours south of the Ukrainian capital that also has an Arsenal of its own. Those visits would complete a hat-trick of Ukrainian Arsenals, with Arsenal Kharkiv having been ticked off almost two weeks ago.
My train here contained a number of Portuguese fans, all seemingly confident of securing safe passage to the last four. These sides have met at this stage before, Karel Poborsky scoring that memorable lob at Villa Park in 1996, while a Czech side including Tomas joined Portugal in falling to the dogged Greeks eight years later.
Although Cristiano Ronaldo and company are clear favourites tonight, I think it’ll be tight and tough – with the tournament’s proud boast of having not yet seen a 0-0 draw perhaps coming under threat.
Tomas’ side would take any kind of victory and, if they make it through to the semis, his assertion that this side cannot be compared with the class of 2004 might come under close scrutiny.
EURO 2012 BLOG ARCHIVE:
- And then there were six
- D-day for England and France
- Per proved right on Podolski
- Czechs keep their composure
- Electric Walcott makes his mark
- Kiev gets ready for England
- Dejected Dutch on the brink
- A decisive day for the Dutch
- Beaming Ox makes his mark
- Sun, streams and slagheaps
- Diligent Danes reap reward
- The Dutch and the Danes
- Running the rule over Robin
- From Gatwick to Kharkiv