Defending champions Spain battle with their Iberian neighbours Portugal for a spot in the UEFA EURO 2012 final when they meet in the semi-finals at the Donbass Arena in Donetsk tonight.
Both teams enter the last-four clash on the back of three consecutive wins at the tournament, with Sunday’s final clearly in sight. Vicente del Bosque’s Spain produced an effective quarter-final victory against France, while their neighbours downed Czech Republic to advance.
Paulo Bento believes patience is key if his Portugal side are going to find a way past the holders and world champions in Donetsk. “Of course there are going to be moments in the game when we can link up and go forward,” he said in Tuesday’s pre-game press conference. We want possession of the ball but we are playing against a team that has played better than all the other teams. It’s going to be about patience. We know what we have to do. We have to put pressure on our opponents in the right areas of the pitch. Our aim is not to defend all the time. You can’t do that against the world and European champions. We are aware that it’s going to be difficult but they also know that we can cause them problems. It was very easy to get motivated because we’re in the semi-finals. There can’t be a more beautiful opportunity than the one we have tomorrow.”
“We’ll intend to throw him (Cristiano Ronaldo) off his game, the best example of that is the second round win at the World Cup, where we managed the better result,” said Vicente Del Bosque of a 1-0 win over Portugal in Johannesburg. “The idea will be the same.” Spain has won its last six knockout round games at major tournaments by a combined score of 7-0. Although the team is not providing eye-catching scorelines, it has shown patience and maturity to break down opponents who nearly always ‘park the bus’, or take a completely defensive approach. “I would prefer if they play back in their own half, it’s a satisfaction for us to keep possession,” Del Bosque said of the Portuguese. “They have enough players that can provide alternatives to their attack, but I would like it if they played in a defensive way because we have solutions to combat that.”
Real Zaragoza frontman Postiga has been ruled out with a thigh injury, meaning coach Bento will be unable to field the same starting line-up which he has used in the last six competitive matches. Besiktas forward Hugo Almeida is expected to get the nod in Donetsk, with 20-year-old Nelson Oliveira, who has come on as a substitute three times in the tournament, likely to be on the bench again. Almeida will be flanked in the Portuguese attack by Cristiano Ronaldo, whose glittering displays against the Netherlands and the Czechs played a decisive part in sending Portugal into the last four.
Del Bosque reported no new injury problems following the quarter-final victory against Les Bleus. However, he must decide whether to start the game again without a recognised striker and allow Cesc Fabregas to fill the role. If Del Bosque decides against the quarter-final line-up, Fernando Torres could lead the line, while Pedro could also get a start in the Spain midfield.
Played – 34
Portugal Wins – 6
Draws – 12
Spain Wins – 16
Portugal – WWWLL
21-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Czech Republic 0-1 Portugal
17-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Portugal 2-1 Netherlands
13-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Denmark 2-3 Portugal
09-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Germany 1-0 Portugal
02-Jun-12 – Friendly – Portugal 1-3 Turkey
Spain – WWWDW
23-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Spain 2-0 France
18-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Croatia 0-1 Spain
14-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Spain 4-0 Ireland
10-Jun-12 – Euro 2012 – Spain 1-1 Italy
03-Jun-12 – Friendly – Spain 1-0 China
PLAYERS TO WATCH
The Real Madrid defender has been as solid as a rock in the heart of the Portuguese defence. The hard tacking defender has had an excellent tournament so far, and has been one of the reason why Portugal are in the semi-finals. He was solid against the Czechs on Thursday. Another performance like that against the Spaniards today and Portugal could be through to the finals.
Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
He would undoubtedly be the key man for his side, as he is the only player who looks capable of breaching the solid Spanish defence and getting past his Real Madrid teammate Iker Casillas. He has been in tremendous form in the last two matches, scoring three goals and hitting the post four times and is sure to be the biggest test yet for his opposing Captain Casillas.
Iker Casillas (Spain)
The Spanish captain hasn’t been troubled a lot so far in this tournament and this will be arguably his toughest test in Poland/Ukraine. He has been in good form throughout the year for both Real Madrid and Spain and today he will face his club teammate Cristiano Ronaldo. If Casillas is able to keep Ronaldo quite and not let him score any goals today then La Roja have a huge chance of progressing to final.
Andres Iniesta (Spain)
The Barcelona star has undoubtedly been one of the best players in attack for Spain and has hardly let anyone feel David Villa’s absence. Although kept quiet for most of the last game, he did deliver the beautifully weighted pass that let in Jordi Alba to cross for the first goal. He would be raring to go and make an impact against arch-rivals Portugal today and help his team progress to the final.
Portugal (4-3-3): Rui Patricio; Joao Perreira, Pepe, Bruno Alves, Fabio Coentrao; Miguel Veloso, Raul Meireles, Joao Moutinho; Nani, Hugo Almeida, Cristiano Ronaldo (C).
The Portuguese would match Spain’s 4-3-3 formation. However, with Helder Postiga set to miss the clash due to the injury sustained in the quarter-finals, Hugo Almeida is expected to start as the centre man in the front three. He would be the target man and long balls would be hit straight at him, which he would be expected to hold up and then bring the dangerous wingers Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani into play. The rest of the team would be the same which has taken field in all four matches.
Spain (4-3-3): Iker Casillas (C); Alvaro Arbeloa, Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba; Sergi Busquets, Xavi, Xabi Alonso; David Silva, Cesc Fabregas, Andres Iniesta.
The defending champions are expected to line-up in the same 4-3-3 formation that started against the French and completely dominated the game. Fabregas was not too impressive, but would still be expected to start ahead of Fernando Torres as he fits better in the team whose emphasis is on passing football and keeping possession. Plus he has better understanding with the other Barcelona players in the squad. Del Bosque would keep the same team players that have delivered the results.
Portugal 10/3 Draw 23/10 Spain 10/11
The rivalry will be there for everyone to see and it is set to be a tough battle. Portugal have played to their potential in the UEFA EURO 2012 and arguably the same cannot be said for Spain. Spain will play as expected and dominate the possession, while the Portuguese will b looking to catch them on the counter with their pacey wingers. It’s very hard to see Spain losing today as they have the experience and the extra bid of quality in their midfield which could be the difference between the two sides in Donetsk.
Predicted Score – Portugal 1-2 Spain