Moutinho emerging as new Portugal playmaker

Even the best scorers need someone to set them up.

Joao Moutinho did exactly that for Cristiano Ronaldo on

Thursday, providing the precise cross for the only goal in

Portugal’s 1-0 victory over the Czech Republic.

The 25-year-old Moutinho showed he is a contender to become the

top-class playmaker that Portugal is looking for. And he’ll get

another chance to impress when the Portuguese face either Spain or

France in the European Championship semifinals on Wednesday in

Donetsk, Ukraine.

Portugal was on the attack from the start and Ronaldo twice hit

the post before scoring the decisive goal. Moutinho’s sweetly timed

run split the Czech defense and gave him room to make the type of

inch-perfect back post cross that Ronaldo feeds on.

”We knew it would be a difficult game. We knew they were a

difficult opponent which always focuses on counterattacks,”

Moutinho said. ”We created a lot of chances and then we managed to

score and qualify for the semifinals, and that’s what we

wanted.”

The midfielder, who was left out of Portugal’s 2010 World Cup

squad, now has a chance to make an international impact, having

only played until now in the Portuguese league at FC Porto and

Sporting Lisbon.

Moutinho, though workmanlike, has at times appeared overwhelmed

on big occasions.

Now, he’s a candidate in the Portuguese team for the position

that has been unoccupied since Deco retired from international

football after the World Cup.

Before the Brazilian-born Deco brought his drive and vision to

Portugal, the No. 10 jersey was the unchallenged property of Rui

Costa, whose guile and silky footwork helped Portugal to the Euro

2004 final.

Portugal coach Paulo Bento initially eyed Carlos Martins for the

role but the Granada midfielder pulled out of the tournament due to

injury last month.

Bento has manufactured a makeshift solution, with Moutinho and

Raul Meireles sharing duties in the attacking midfield role.

In Wednesday’s semifinal, Moutinho will have another chance to

serve Ronaldo. And there’s no one else he’d rather help.

”Cristiano is a very complete player in all aspects,” Moutinho

said. ”Messi is, too, but they differ from another. I prefer

Ronaldo.”