In the quarterfinals, Portugal was pushed into the semis by a late header from Cristiano Ronaldo. On the other side, Spain’s Xabi Alonso was at the double to take out a dangerous French team. As the two neighbors prepare to square off, the expectations for both are slightly different. But the optimism and hopefulness of the players and fans will be through the roof.
Possible Spain Lineup (4-6-0):
Casillas, Ramos, Piqué, Alba, Arbeloa, Busquets, Xabi Alonso, Xavi, Iniesta, Fábregas, Silva
Possible Portugal Lineup (4-3-3):
Rui Patrício, Bruno Alves, Pepe, Fábio Coentrão, João Pereira, Miguel Veloso, João Moutinho, Raul Meireles, Cristiano Ronaldo, Nani, Hugo Almeida
This game can be won or lost in the first fifteen minutes, in my opinion. Portugal will have to come out, pressure, get Spain off the ball, and show that they can get forward. Spain has been comfortable in possession all tournament, and while that won’t change this game, just how much they can hold the ball, settle down, and pass it around will determine just how confident they are as the game goes on. If Portugal don’t cause any headaches for the Spanish early on, I don’t know if they ever will.
That 4-6-0 formation we’re seeing from Spain may be unusual. But it is working. Some may even call it boring, but it’s helping them play their game, and most importantly, win. To say that the midfield battle will be huge is a laughable understatement; surely six midfielders (or at least five) will make you prepare for that battle. Portugal will be prepared, and even have a couple extra days of rest to their advantage. It’ll take a major effort to take down the Spaniards however, who are two wins away from possibly going down as the greatest international squad ever put together.
How Spain will play is exactly what we’ve already seen in their first four games: a lot of possession, crafty passing, and overall outplaying of the opposition. Portugal will have to have a solid performance from the back line in order to keep out through balls from the likes of Xavi, Iniesta, and Fábregas. And with the few chances that they get going forward, it is a necessity that they put them away to have a chance and keep Spain out of their comfort zone.
For Spain, it’s Iniesta. One of the top three midfielders in the world, and his control of the ball coupled with the passes he provides will be too much for Portugal at one point or another. Whether the player on the receiving end can finish it is another question. But a lot of Spain’s success will depend on the play of Iniesta over the course of the game. If the last matches are any indication, he will do just fine.
And for Portugal, I’m not going to shock many by picking Cristiano Ronaldo as Portugal’s key man. He is a major threat going forward, and if Portugal gets on the board, it will probably be his name on the score sheet. He has answered the critics and played well on the international stage all tournament long. I don’t think he’ll have too easy of a time against the tournament favorites, but if anybody can carry Portugal to victory, it’s him.
Before Euro 2012 began, I said that the only team that could possibly beat Spain were the Germans. I’m standing by that.
Spain will be too much for Portugal on all parts of the pitch. It will take an early goal from Portugal to shake Spain’s confidence for them to have a chance. But in all fairness, I don’t see that happening. I think that Spain will play the game at their tempo, frustrate Ronaldo and Portugal, and win this game 2-0 (Fábregas and Torres). From a neutral perspective, I hope that it is a close encounter with more than two goals. But Spain simply look too determined right now, and I don’t see them going down here. Portugal will be headed home at the expense of their Iberian neighbors.