Raise your hand if you thought the Czech Republic would qualify for the quarterfinals at Euro 2012 after their 4-1 loss to Russia. Now put your hand down, Liar McLiarpants. No one -- not even the most ambitious of Czech supporters -- thought they would go through. They were downright bad in that game.
In their next game, against Greece, they were good for precisely six minutes out of 90. They scored twice in that period. Against Poland, they were out-shot, but Petr Jiráček scored a fantastic goal and Petr Cech made multiple solid saves. The Czechs went through to the quarterfinals on six points, winning Group A with a negative goal differential.
This road to the quarterfinals stands in stark contrast to Portugal, who had to scrap and claw their way to six points and second place in Group B even though they played a full 210 minutes of pretty decent football. They held Germany scoreless for a long period, found a late winner against a tough Denmark team and turned a 1-0 defect into a 2-1 win over the Netherlands, in a game where they were far superior to the Oranje in the last 80 minutes.
Cristiano Ronaldo, who was invisible against Germany and actively poor against Denmark, pulled himself together and scored both of Portugal's goals in that game. With him in form, A Selecção are heavy favorites in Thursday's quarterfinal match.
There are still doubts over the fitness of Czech Republic playmaker Tomáš Rosický, but the team has received a couple pieces of good news recently about his availability, or lack thereof.
Piece of good news No. 1: Rosický trained on Wednesday, making it more likely that he starts. At the very least, he'll be available off the bench.
Piece of good news No. 2: Daniel Kolář wasn't too bad against Poland. He put in a disastrous substitute appearance against Greece, but he was much better in their last match. He completed 87 percent of his passes, only had the ball taken off him once and didn't have any bad turnovers (via WhoScored).
Tomáš Hübschman, who was brought in mostly to solidify the Czech midfield defensively, has had two consecutive good passing performances in the midfield. He's become somewhat of an unlikely and unorthodox regista for the team, and his distribution from deep has been a big part of why the Czechs have won their last two matches after playing so poorly against Russia. It will be important for João Moutinho and Raul Meireles to close him down on Thursday. With the benefit of a few days off and some tape to watch, Paulo Bento will likely be more aware of his abilities than previous opposing managers.
Hübschman and either Rosický or Kolář are going to have their hands full with a Portugal midfield that has performed above expectations. They didn't look fantastic at the 2010 World Cup or in qualifying for this tournament, but the midfield three of Moutinho, Miguel Veloso and Raul Meireles has at least managed to contain Mesut Özil, Christian Eriksen and Wesley Sneijder in consecutive matches. Rosický is an accomplished player, but he's lower on the great world No. 10s totem pole than those three players. It's probably going to take a special performance for either Rosický or Kolář to have a huge influence.
Going forward, Portugal's going to continue to rely on their flank play, with the midfield resigned to offering passing options, distributing to Ronaldo and Nani and not giving the ball away. This strategy has worked just fine thus far, especially since Hélder Postiga has been a bit better than expected in Portugal's last two games after putting in a terrible performance against Germany. His one goal thus far was an excellent one, and he's otherwise provided a competent means to link Nani and Ronaldo together.
The biggest matchup of the game, even more so than any midfield battle or anything involving Ronaldo, will likely be the battle between Jiráček and Fábio Coentrão. Not only did Jiráček score the goal that insured the Czech Republic's progression to the quarterfinals, but he's also a much better defensive player than Jan Rezek, who started the Russia match on the right wing. Jiráček is going to have to track back on Coentrão, but he's a good enough player going forward that Coentrão won't be able to bomb up the flank with reckless abandon. More of the game will be played on that flank than on the opposite flank, so they'll be seeing a lot of each other in big situations.
Projected Czech Republic Lineup (4-2-3-1): Petr Cech; David Limberský, Michal Kadlec, Tomáš Sivok, Theodor Gebre Selassie; Tomáš Hübschman, Jaroslav Plašil; Václav Pilař, Tomáš Rosický, Petr Jiráček; Milan Baroš
Projected Portugal Lineup (4-3-3): Rui Patrício; Fábio Coentrão, Bruno Alves, Pepe, João Pereira; Miguel Veloso, João Moutinho, Raul Meireles; Cristiano Ronaldo, Hélder Postiga, Nani
Monty the Psychic Metal Disk says: All hail the power of Cronaldo. 2-0 Portugal.
Game Date/Time: Thursday, June 21, 2:45 p.m. ET, 8:45 p.m. local
Venue: National Stadium, Warsaw, Poland
TV: ESPN (U.S. - English), ESPN Deportes (U.S. - Spanish), BBC One (U.K.), TSN (Canada)
We'll have live coverage of the game in our Czech Republic Vs. Portugal, Euro 2012 Quarterfinals StoryStream. For more on Euro 2012 and the entire world of football, follow @SBNationSoccer on Twitter.