The Czech Republic will welcome former holders Portugal in a must-win game for both sides in the penultimate game week of the UEFA Nations League group stage.

Portugal will be keen to keep their hopes of a UEFA Nations League finals berth alive when they take on the Czech Republic at the Eden Arena on Saturday. Both sides are behind Spain in the Group A2 standings and will be keen to secure all three points on the night.

With Portugal set to welcome Spain at home for their final game of the group stages, it can be argued that Fernando Santos’s side will control their own destiny. Led by one of the greatest ever players in Cristiano Ronaldo, the Iberian giants have shown in the past that they can take a yard if offered an inch.

Both the Czech and Portugal are coming off losses against Spain and Switzerland respectively. A loss on Saturday will more or less spell the end to their chances of progressing in the competition. With the former failing to qualify for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, the Czech will have more incentive to make an impact against their more illustrious opponents.

A win will take Jaroslav Silhavy’s side within touching distance of qualifying for the finals while a loss could also spell relegation for them. Switzerland sits a mere one point behind the Czech in the standings and are primed to pounce should Portugal do them a favour.

The visitors, meanwhile, will be keen to experience success in the competition for the second time, and a return to winning ways will do just that. Joao Cancelo and Goncalo Guedes were the goalscorers in the reverse fixture where Portugal came out 2-0 on top.

The Hard Tackle looks at how both sides could line up on the night and what tactics they might employ.

Team News and Tactics

Czech Republic

The home side will be glad to welcome back striker Patrik Schick who returns to the fold for the first time in six months. However, it is not all rosy as Silhavy will be without Petr Sevcik, who is sick and Michal Sadilek, who is yet to recover from a hamstring issue.

The Czech will be likely to deploy in a 3-4-3 formation that could take advantage of Portugal’s injuries at the back. Tomas Vaclik will start in goal behind the back three of David Zima, Jakub Brabec and Vaclav Jemelka. Vladimir Coufal and Jaroslav Zeleny will start as the wing-backs and could be in for a busy night against Nuno Mendes and Diogo Dalot respectively.

West Ham United star Tomas Soucek will start in the middle of the park alongside Alex Kral. How well the duo can cope with Portugal’s Premier League-proven midfield could set the stage for the pace at which the game is played.

Vaclav Cerny and Adam Hlozek are likely to start upfront with Schick leading the line. The Bayer Leverkusen duo, in particular, will present the Portuguese defence with much to worry about and will need to be clinical on the night.

Probable Lineup (3-4-3): Vaclik; Zima, Brabec, Jemelka; Coufal, Kral, Soucek, Zeleny; Hlozek, Schick, Cerny

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Portugal

The Iberians will be without Joao Cancelo, who scored in the reverse fixture earlier this year. The Manchester City star is suspended for the game following a booking against Switzerland, paving the way for Manchester United star Diogo Dalot to take his place.

Defensive stars Pepe and Raphael Guerreiro are also injured and are unavailable for the night. Add to it the international retirement of Rafa Silva, and Santos will have several decisions to make. Anything less than a win will be unthinkable for the former champions. Joao Felix was pictured training alone and is also unlikely to start the game on the night.

Portugal are likely to be deployed in a 4-3-3 formation which is freely flexible depending on the situation. Rui Patricio should start in goal behind the back four of Dalot, Ruben Dias, Danilo Pereira and Nuno Mendes. All four players have been regulars for their club this season and will be match ready to answer Santos’s call.

Ruben Neves will be the lynchpin in midfield, giving Bruno Fernandes and Bernardo Silva the freedom to push forward. The trio will come up against a familiar opponent in Soucek and will need to limit the Hammers’ star’s physical prowess.

Liverpool star Diogo Jota has looked lively since his return from injury and should start up front alongside AC Milan winger Rafael Leao. Cristiano Ronaldo will lead the line and will be keen to silence his naysayers at Manchester United, where he has been largely consigned to a role off the bench.

Probable Lineup (3-4-3): Patricio; Dalot, Dias, Pereira, Mendes; Silva, Neves, Fernandes, Jota, Ronaldo, Leao

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Key Stats

  • The Czech Republic are unbeaten in their last four home games in the competition.
  • The Czech Republic have never been held to a shutout at home in the UEFA Nations League.
  • The Czech Republic and Portugal have faced off against each other four times, with the latter coming out on top three times. The former have won just one meeting, all the way back in 1996.
  • Cristiano Ronaldo is in line to win his 190th cap on the night. He is also the leading goalscorer in international football and will be keen to add to his tally.

Player to watch

Cristiano Ronaldo

His time to shine again? (Photo courtesy: AFP/Getty)
His time to shine again? (Photo courtesy: AFP/Getty)

The veteran striker has been forced to undertake an unfamiliar role on the bench at Manchester United this season. The same cannot be said on the international stage where Ronaldo is still the numero uno upfront. He will be keen to mark his 190th cap with a goal or two and will want to silence his doubters on the pitch.

Ronaldo has been his nation’s go-to man for years now, and now has a stellar starring cast behind him. Jota and Leao are both handfuls to deal with and will benefit from Ronaldo’s clinical ability in front of goal. With the World Cup just around two months away, the 37-year-old will be keen to ensure his final preparations go as expected. Also, there is no better opportunity than deciding a must-win match for a player of Ronaldo’s calibre to restore his reputation as a match-winner.

Prediction

Czech Republic 1-2 Portugal

Despite the absentees, Portugal are the better side on paper and have the upper hand, especially in midfield and attack to make the difference. While the Czech Republic will be buoyed by the home support, the visitors should rise to the occasion in what is a must-win game. Doing so will see them go into the final game of the group stage against Spain with their destiny in their own hands. While the game is unlikely to be one-sided, the visitors should have enough in their tank to squeeze through a win.

 

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