The business end of Euro 2012. Surprise qualifiers from Group A, while the Netherlands was the big disappointment in Group B. Old-world classics lined up between Groups C and D. Onward and upward.
Czech Republic vs. Portugal, 2:45 pm ET (ESPN)
Czech Republic (4-2-3-1): Cech; Gebre Selassie, Sivok, Kadlec, Limbersky; Hubschman, Plasil; Jiracek, Darida (surprise!), Pilar; Baros.
Portugal (4-3-3): Rui Patricio; Coentrao, B. Alves, Pepe, Pereira; Moutinho, Veloso, Meireles; Nani, Postiga, Ronaldo.
How they got here:
Czech Republic: Group A winner. Lost to Russia (1-4), defeated Greece (2-1), defeated Poland (1-0).
Portugal: Group B runner-up. Lost to Germany (0-1), defeated Denmark (3-2), defeated Netherlands (2-1).
Today's first quarterfinal pits two unexpected but familiar rivals. The Czechs have made a habit of European Championship successes, reaching the final in 1996 and semifinals in 2004 (cruelly losing to Greece, who then defeated hosts Portugal). The Czechs defeated Portugal in the semifinals at Euro 1996 but lost in the group stage in 2008.
As I mentioned at the start of the tournament, Michal Bilek's team is priming for Brazil 2014, not this tournament. But once in the knockout stage, all bets are off. A few veterans, a few youngsters, and a few surprises have added up to success, even in the face of a first-match mauling. Tomas Rosicky's fitness is key: his presence stabilizes an inexperienced side and provides a final ball often lacking without the Arsenal man.
Portugal is still all about Cristiano Ronaldo. A final-match brace against the Dutch will have lifted his confidence after a number of dreadful misses against Denmark. When on form, we know he's deadly. But the emphasis will be to mark him in numbers. Nani and Helder Postiga should have space to operate, but the Manchester United man in particular has been out of whack. A threat down both wings will limit the activity of Czech rising star Theodor Gebre Selassie.