Team captain Cristiano Ronaldo, center, catches a ball during a training session of Portugal, prior to the Euro 2012 soccer quarterfinal match between Portugal and the Czech Republic, in Opalenica, Poland, Wednesday, June 20, 2012. (AP Photo/Armando Franca)
WARSAW — Cristiano Ronaldo now gets the royal, reverential treatment at the European Championship even from some of his opponents.
The Czech Republic faces Portugal on Thursday and by now, most are in such awe of the creative talents of the Real Madrid superstar that there is no point in hiding tactics.
It is clear that Portugal will seek to push Ronaldo forward to expose the Czech defense, and equally clear that Czech coach Michal Bilik has already planned on how to deny him the necessary space to spread his magic.
“If Ronaldo runs, it is impossible to stop him,” Bilik said on the eve of the quarterfinal. “We have to close the defense and not give him any space.”
If the opponents are already full of admiration, Ronaldo’s own teammates tried to outdo one another.
Midfielder Joao Moutinho called Ronaldo the best in the world — better even than Lionel Messi — and coach Paulo Bento protected him when his lack of defending was questioned.
“Every player has his own function or task,” Bento said. “We try to combine this in the best possible way.”
Even Czech captain Tomas Rosicky said exceptional players merit exceptional rules.
“If someone is on such a high level, he can afford not to help the defense and just score goals,” Rosicky said.
All this comes after Ronaldo was criticized for two wasteful games that put the Portuguese on the brink of elimination. Then he produced two goals and perhaps his best international game in a 2-1 come-from-behind win over the Netherlands which earned Portugal a spot in the quarterfinals.
Bento made no secret that team tactics would stay the same against the Czechs, using the speed and skills of forwards like Ronaldo and Nani to unsettle the Czech underdogs.
“We will have the same tactical lineup that we played before,” said Bento. “We won’t give up our strategy. We have to play with speed like we have done.”