Czechs Aim to Deny Ronaldo Room to Run as Rosicky May Return

Tomas Rosicky may start for the Czech Republic against Portugal in the European soccer championship’s first quarterfinal tonight as coach Michal Bilek says defense may help repeat the 1996 success, when the Czechs made the final.

After featuring in 38 games this season for Arsenal, the most since he signed for the London club in May 2006, Rosicky missed the second half of the Greece match and the entire game against Poland because of an Achilles injury. He said on June 18 it wasn’t likely he’d play in the quarterfinal.

“It’s a complication, because every time he doesn’t play we miss him,” Bilek said at the conference. “He’s our key player.”

Rosicky also missed the Czechs’ previous game against Portugal, when the two teams met in group stages of the European championship in Austria and Switzerland in 2008. He then had a hamstring injury that kept him out of soccer for 18 months.

“After I trained today the chance that I start tomorrow is bigger,” Rosicky told a news conference at the National Stadium in Warsaw yesterday.

The Czechs lost to Russia 4-1 in their opening game of this year’s tournament. They later beat Greece and Poland to advance to the next stage as the group leader, while the other two eastern European countries failed to qualify.

“We opened up the game too much and Russia punished us for that,” Bilek said. “We strengthened the defense and that was the key. We have learned a lot from the first match.”

Close Defense

The Portuguese enter the game as runners-up in the so-called group of death, where they lost to Germany and beat Denmark and the Netherlands, with Cristiano Ronaldo scoring two goals against the latter. The Real Madrid player leads the tournament with the most shots on target, 13, according to the UEFA website.

“Ronaldo can score 40, 50 goals a season and defending against him is exceptional,” the Czech coach said. “We have to close the defense and not give him any space because if Ronaldo runs, it’s impossible to stop him.”

Rosicky used to play against Ronaldo before the Portuguese moved to Spain from Manchester United.

“He’s a good attacker, but he doesn’t want to defend,” Rosicky said at the conference. “If somebody’s on such a high level he can afford not to help the defense and just score goals.”

Before 2008, Czechs met Portugal in the 1996 quarterfinal of the European championships held in England. They beat tomorrow’s opponent 1-0 with a long-distance shot by Karel Poborsky before losing the final to Germany.

“Poborsky’s lob was fantastic and we wouldn’t be angry if we repeated this result” tomorrow, Bilek said. “The situation is similar as Portugal is also the favorite. If we repeat our performances of the last two games we have a chance to go through.”

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