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Czech, Portugal to vie for 1st quarterfinal berth at Euro 2008
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The ongoing European championship may give out the first berth to the quarterfinals as the opening day winners, the Czech Republic and Portugal, went into their encounter at the Stade de Geneva while the other Group A match pits hosts Switzerland and Turkey later on Wednesday.

A second victory will secure a place in the last eight for either the Czechs or the Portuguese, if only the winners' opening day rivals unbeaten in Basel. A draw between the joint group leaders, however, will revive the hope of making the knockout stage for both Switzerland and Turkey.

Both the Czechs and Portugal have impressive performance recently on the European stage and are in full fitness, as there's no injury report 36 hours ahead of the Wednesday's match.

Karel Bruckner's Czech side, which ruined hosts Switzerland's opening party on Saturday with an opportunist goal from substitute Vaclav Sverkos, were semifinalists in 2004 and finalists in 1996, while Luiz Felipe Scolari's Portugal, who overtook the top of the Group A standings with a competent 2-0 victory over Turkey, reached the European final four years ago.

The Czech Republic's 1996 final showup marks the best result in their three previous European Championship finals, while Portugal's best performance in four previous appearances came in 2004 in Portugal, where they finished runners-up on home soil.

In the only previous meeting between the two sides in 1996, the Czechs went out the winners with a famous goal from the country's most capped player Karel Poborsky, whose cheeky lob over Vitor Baia after 53 minutes secured a 1-0 victory for the Czechs in the quarterfinals.

The head-to-head record, however, showed nothing realistic as Cristiano Ronaldo, the most hyped player at Euro 2008, is not the only factor that worries the Czech team.

"Ronaldo is not alone," said Czech defender Marek Jankulovski, saying that the Czech Republic are aware of Portugal's multitude of creative outlets.

"Everybody talks about Ronaldo, but they have a number of dangerous players. Deco stars in the midfield, (Nuno) Gomes is dangerous up front, as well as Simao (Sabrosa) and (Ricardo) Quaresma," he counted. "I saw a fantastic team - they have all excellent skills. Their attack is a great force."

New hero Sverkos continued: "The Portuguese are one of the favorites. They have many players from top European clubs and you could hardly find a tougher opponent."

The match also features another rivalry between C. Ronaldo and the Czech goalkeeper Petr Cech. In May's UEFA Champions League final between Manchester United and Chelsea, Ronaldo headed the opening goal past Cech, before the Czech later saved a penalty from Ronaldo but was beaten by another from Nani as Chelsea lost the deciding shoot-out.

Portugal pair Ricardo Carvalho and Paulo Ferreira are defensive colleagues of Cech at Chelsea, while Portugual full-back Bosingwa will join that trio at Stamford Bridge after the finals.

In the other Group A encounter between Switzerland and Turkey, the hosts face difficulties from both the rivals and inside their own team. Beside the 4-3-7 upwind record in the head-to-head history, the Swiss also lost top scorer Alexander Frei to injury.

(Xinhua News Agency June 10, 2008)

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