Euro 2012 semi finals: Portugal v Spain preview
Published: 27.06.12 / Written by: David Gold
Portugal and Spain meet in the semi final of Euro 2012, two years after they met in the World Cup.
Then Spain won on their way to the final and to a first World Cup triumph. Spain taking on Portugal is another meeting of the Iberian powers.
For Portugal, it is a key step on their way to trying to finally land a major international trophy. They have lost in the semi final of the World Cup in 2008 and the final of the Euros they hosted in 2004. Portugal now have perhaps their best chance yet to finally clinch silverware.
They have been impressive so far, proving a match for Germany for much of the game before beating a good Denmark side. They then defeated the Netherlands to show that they will be a force in this tournament. They were perhaps fortunate though, to face a weak Czech side in the quarter finals. They bossed the game and deservedly won thanks to Cristiano Ronaldo’s late strike. But Portugal showed in that game the frailties of old; plenty of good build up but little end product.
They take on a Spain team who have admitted to being exhausted and tired. Despite that, Vincente del Bosque’s side have managed to produce their usual brilliant controlled football. Xavi and Andres Iniesta are still pulling the strings, and with Sergio Busquets and Xabi Alonso alongside him, they have a tough midfield to break down. They could only draw with Italy, but had enough about them to thump a poor Republic of Ireland and see of Croatia, before defeating France with comparative ease. But the Croatia game, where the East Europeans had enough chances to have knocked them out of the tournament, showed a vulnerability that better opponents may have been able to take advantage of.
The lack of goals for Spain is in contrast to their reputation as current guardians of the beautiful game. But their football is about control, rather than flair for the sake of it, and they have had plenty of that. They have faced, probably unfairly, accusations of being boring for this, but the reality is that Spain will always look to keep the ball, and when gaps open up they are dazzling and entertaining in taking advantage. The problem is that most teams do not open up and let them, and so the boring tag has arisen when they have simply passed it around against teams who sit back against them. Expect Portugal here to adopt a similar tactic.
Del Bosque has opted to play most of Spain’s football without a recognised centre forward in this tournament. Only Fernando Torres has been given game time and he may not receive more here against a Portugal team who may defend deep and deprive him of the space he thrives on. Instead, it may be that once more it is David Silva and Cesc Fabregas lining up alongside Iniesta in a front three made up of midfielders.
It is an intriguing system and contrasts intriguingly with Portugal, who have Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani, but no recognised forward of a top calibre of their own. It has long been a weakness for Portugal that they lack a forward who will score goals consistently, but Ronaldo has shown this tournament that he is capable of filling that particular void. But Spain will be a tougher test for him than he has faced so far, and much will probably here come down to how lethal Ronaldo is. Ultimately though, he is likely to have very little of the ball, and so Spain’s possession should be enough to take them into another final, quite possibly with Germany again.