By Tom Robin, EnStarz | Jun 21, 2012 02:18 PM EDT
Euro 2012 knock out stages opens Thursday with Portugal vs. Czech Republic. These same two sides met in the quarter finals of Euro 1996 in England, and on that occasion it was the Czech Republic that came out on top in a 1-0 win. This time, however, Portugal will be the favorites in most people's eyes. The match kicks off at 2.45 p.m. and can be watched live on ESPN, or alternatively online through live stream on ESPN3 (details below).
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Portugal come into the knock out stages bursting with confidence; having struggled early on, losing to Germany and then overcoming Denmark in the final minutes of their second game, they destroyed one of the tournament favorites, the Netherlands, in their final group game. Ronaldo and Nani lit up the game and have come into form at the perfect time. In most fans' eyes if Ronaldo and Nani can replicate their form in today's quarter final the Czech Republic will be swept aside.
However, they is perhaps precisely where the Czech Republic will be focusing their efforts; in stopping Ronaldo and Nani from being able to express themselves, and keeping them out of the game. If the Czech Republic can keep those two playmakers quiet then the game could go their way and they could pull of a surprise.
Portugal are the only side to have kept the same starting 11 in every game till now, and it has seemingly helped their fluidity and team game. Against Holland they, as a unit, completely overwhelmed their opposition and in all honesty the Netherlands never looked like being able to beat Portugal.
The Czech Republic have also developed as they've gone on in the tournament; having been annihilated in their opening game against Russia, they won their final two matches to make it through to the quarter finals. They will be looking to keep the momentum going and will know if they can just come up with a shock today they stand just 90 minutes away from a final appearance.
The Czech side is young, with nine players in their squad who are aged 26 or under. So even if they are knocked out today it will have been a massive learning experience for a large portion of their players and they will be looking with greater optimism at World Cup 2014 or Euro 2016.
Portugal vs. Czech Republic kicks off at 2.45 p.m. and can be watched live on ESPN or online through live streaming on ESPN3 by CLICKING HERE.
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