15 November was the chosen date for finally deciding the last 4 teams that would make up the participants in the 2012 Euros to take place in Ukraine and Poland next summer.
So Croatia, Portugal, Czech Republic and Ireland have all booked their places in the XIVth tournament between European national teams.
Let’s begin with Portugal 6 Bosnia 2, the most open tie of the play-offs. 50000 spectators were inside the Stadium of Light in Lisbon to watch their team. Paulo Bento, the coach of the home side, started with a system of a flexible 1-4-3-3, occasionally converting to 1-4-4-2 depending on the circumstances. Rui Patricio in goal, with a defensive line of Joao Pereira, Pepe, Bruno Alves and Fabio Coentrao. Carvalho still seems to be prone to injury. Should he go to the Euros? Should Paulo Bento take the risk? There was good news in midfield for the Portuguese where after a long wait Miguel Veloso played at his best level. We were finally treated to his quality and control of a match. Next to him were Joao Moutinho and Raul Meireles. Up front they went with Nani, Helder Postiga and a simply brilliant Cristiano Ronaldo who scored two goals and making three.
As for Bosnia, they played a very tactical game in the first half but going in at half-time 2-1 down hoping to come back strong in the second half. Stoke City’s goalkeeper, Begovic, was in goal, protected in defence by Zahirovic, Spahic, Jahic and Papac. With a midfield line of Rahimic, Medunjanin, Pjanic, Misimovic and Lulic and their star striker Edin Dzeko in attack.
The Croatia – Turkey match was the most contentious of the round. Several comments had been made beforehand, like the one from striker Ivica Olic who said that his 7 year old son had been playing this game on his playstation for the last few years, after the Croatians had gone out of Euro 2008 in the quarter finals against Turkey. Coach Slaven Bilic said he had spent 3 years dreaming of this game.
The Croatians started with the same 11 who played in the first leg except for the necessary changes for banned players, Vukojevic for Dujmovic and Pranjic for Corluka.
Guus Hiddink’s Turkey made 8 changes from the first game because of bans and injuries. With the tie almost over thanks to the 0-3 away win by the Croatians, the match was not very interesting, with Turkey starting strongly at first to try to score early and give them a chance. But as time went on, the Turks ran out of steam and the Croatians stretched them, coming close to beating Bolat in the Turkish goal. It finished 0-0.
Montenegro were hosts to the Czech Republic to try to make up a 2-0 deficit. However they lost again, this time 1-0 with a goal by Jiracek the Viktoria Plzen centre midfielder. The match was memorable for the Montenegro game plan, their coach Branko Brnovic wanted Jovetic, Bozovic and Drincic to control possession. And they almost sprung a surprise early in the second half when, from a corner, the Juventus striker Vucinic was inches away from scoring. The game went on and Montenegro couldn’t score, then as usually happens in football, a counter attack and goal by the opposition, in this case for Czech Republic with 10 minutes left.
Ireland, after a 4-0 win in Estonia played at half pace in the Dublin Arena in the knowledge they were almost through. If we add to that the absence of the two Estonia centre backs through suspension, Piiroja and Stepanov, plus the goalie Pareiko, it was obvious that Ireland would be half-hearted and run down the clock. The work-rate and desire of Tarmo Ruutli’s team, who never threw in the towel and who right to the end were professional in their approach, stood out, making the scoreline 1-1 which satisfied both teams.