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.''