Dombass Arena, Donetsk, Ukraine
21:45 GMT, 27 June, 2012
The first semifinal of the Euro 2012 pitches the defending champions Spain and their Iberian neighbours Portugal, hopeful of getting their first ever big international title, in a re-edition of a first knockout stage of the World Cup 2010 match that Spain won 1-0 with the goal being scored by the currently injured David Villa on their way to the World Cup title.
Portugal have become much stronger since, though, under the guidance of Paulo Bento; but apparently so have the defending Euro and World champions, who keep making world class sides look very vulgar when they face Spain. Vicente del Bosque’s side will start as the obvious favorites, but Portugal should not be underestimated, especially after their great campaign so far.
This Iberian duel has all the makings of a fantastic semifinal.
Team News and Tactical Brief
Spain come into this semifinal high on confidence, after dismantling France in the quarters, and they have no injuries or suspensions to worry about, allowing Del Bosque to pick the best and most adequate team for this match.
The Spanish team has very few secrets; everyone can guess who will start, what their formation will be and how they will approach the match and play. The problem is stopping them. With Barcelona’s midfield trio of Busquets, Xavi and Iniesta controlling matches, Spain’s opponents are literally forced to camp in their own half and defend for their lives, much like Barcelona’s opponents in club football.
The only doubt is whether Torres will be fielded as the lone striker or Fabregas as a false 9 like against France. Apart from that, there are few, if any doubts. Casillas will be the keeper, with Alba, Arbeloa, Ramos and Piqué in defense; Alonso, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta and Silva in midfield, with Spain attempting to pass Portugal to death and suffocate them from the offset.
Probable Lineup: Iker Casillas; Jordi Alba, Gerard Piqué, Sergio Ramos, Alvaro Arbeloa; Xabi Alonso, Sergio Busquets, Andrés Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez, David Silva; Cesc Fabregas
If the Spain are on a high, Portugal are too. After losing the opening match to Germany, Portugal’s campaign has been nothing short of impressive, beating Denmark, Holland and Czech Republic consecutively to reach the semifinals, with Cristiano Ronaldo grabbing the headlines.
But Spain are of course an altogether different proposition; against their Iberian neighbors, Portugal won’t dominate possession or dictate the tempo of the match, just like every other team (when facing Spain) they will be dominated. The key for Portugal in this match is great defense and work ethic, not only from the defenders but from the entire team; closing down spaces, trying to rush the Spanish players and not giving the likes of Silva and Iniesta even an inch are keys for Portugal’s success, as well as Rui Patricio’s performance; no matter how well you defend Spain, they always create at least a few decent chances.
After the first part of the job is completed – containing Spain – it will be time to counterattack and try to exploit the tremendous pace of Ronaldo and Nani. With Postiga injured, Hugo Almeida will start as a center forward and his height might be a weapon. The Cristiano Ronaldo vs Arbeloa matchup is one that the Portuguese side will surely try to exploit as well and regularly as possible, as it seems to clearly favor the Portuguese here.
The starting XI shouldn’t differ from the one used in the other matches, bar Almeida in the place of injured Postiga, only the gameplan will need to change out of necessity as it is almost impossible to take possession off Spain.
Probable Lineup: Rui Patrício; Fábio Coentrão, Bruno Alves, Pepe, João Pereira; João Moutinho, Raul Meireles, Miguel Veloso; Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Nani, Hugo Almeida
Key Match Facts
- Spain haven’t conceded a single goal in their eight knockout matches in Euros/World Cups.
- In the only occasions where Portugal and Spain ever faced in a knockout game, Spain won 1-0 in the World Cup 2010.
- Portugal won the last match against Spain 4-0, in a friendly in Lisbon in October 2010.
- Xavi Hernandez has completed more passes than any other player in this tournament.
TheHardTackle’s Player to Watch Out For
Andrés Iniesta (Spain)
The best player of the tournament and the difference maker for Spain. He is the one providing the spark and inspiration to go with all the possession and control, and the one to unlock defenses with accurate dribbling and pinpoint passes. We can expect more of that against Portugal on Wednesday.
Spain 2-0 Portugal
Spain have been looking ominous in this tournament so far and look like a safe bet to win their third major tournament in a row. Portugal obviously have a chance considering the amount of talented players in their squad, but Spain’s fast and accurate passing should wear them down eventually.
TheHardTackle’s Blast From the Past