The semi-finals of Euro 2012 get underway Wednesday in an all-Iberian affair as Portugal will try and stop their bitter rivals from Spain. This is a dream match-up for soccer fans, and one that certainly isn’t short on storylines. Among the most intriguing of all is certainly the tournament’s best player, Cristiano Ronaldo, doing battle with many of his friends and teammates on the Spanish side. Players from both teams are highly familiar with one another, and there should be no surprises Wednesday evening in Ukraine.
Portugal’s tournament was marred with uncertainty from the instant they saw their group matches. Being paired with both the Dutch and Germans meant it would certainly be tough for progression, but the Portuguese have been solid in every outing and will look for that to continue against a tough Spanish foe. Coach Paulo Bento has his team playing disciplined football, rock-solid at the back and lethal on the counter-attack. Two traits that should worry Spain’s Vicente del Bosque.
Spain meanwhile have endured much criticism in their play thus far, but they’ve yet to lose a match in competition. Despite many moments of vulnerability, Spain has emerged relatively unscathed and put on their most impressive performance in the tournament against France on Saturday. Spain plays a methodical style, reliant on ball possession and control, but against a Portuguese squad familiar with their tactics and tenacious in their pursuit, the Spaniards may have to adapt their approach against what should be their toughest opponent yet.
Spain vs Portugal Betting Odds:
Spain (+100) / Draw (+230) / Portugal (+345)
Over 2.0 (+100) / Under 2.0 (-120)
Match Analysis & Pick:
Spain is undoubtedly one of the top international teams on the planet devoid of many flaws, but they’ve shown some imperfections of late. For all their talent and quality with the ball, they have exuded vulnerabilities without it. Moreover, against Croatia and Italy, Spain showed deficiencies to the counter-attack, and facing a quick and talented Portuguese midfield that thrives on countering, it could prove troublesome for Spain’s untested back-line.
Portugal’s midfield is of course spearheaded by one of the world’s top players in Cristiano Ronaldo. After a lacklustre beginning to Euro 2012, Ronaldo has awoken from his slumber netting 3 goals in his past two matches, including the late winner against the Czech Republic in the quarter-finals. As previously stated, Ronaldo and the Spanish side are very familiar with each other from their altercations in Spanish club soccer, and that will be an interesting dynamic in this match. It remains to be seen who has the edge as a result of this familiarity, but one thing is for certain in that Ronaldo is in top-form and is looking like a man on a mission.
Expect Spain, as usual, to control the ball for the majority of the match with nifty passing and creativity in the midfield. However, those tactics will not be as effective against Portugal as they were against their earlier opponents. Portugal possesses a tough back-line orchestrated by Pepe and Bruno Alves that have looked solid throughout the tournament. Coach Paulo Bento’s side has shown minimal weaknesses and won’t succumb to Spain’s customary dominant approach. Alves and Pepe will be physical with the Spanish attackers, and there will be little time and space for their creativity.
Additionally, the Portuguese midfield is absolutely imperative for them in this match. The trio of Joao Moutinho, Nani, and Miguel Veloso will need to counter-attack the Spaniards whenever they relinquish possession. Those three are creative and speedy players unlike any Spain have faced yet in Euro 2012. Look for them to provide frequent service to the lethal Ronaldo up front, hoping the Real Madrid star can exploit a weakened Spanish defense.
Spain enter the semi-finals as prohibitive favourites, but it’s based more on what they’ve done in the past opposed to their performance thus far. They’ve looked vulnerable on multiple occasions and were inches away from missing out on the knockout stages against Croatia. Though they seemed in top-form against France, the Spaniards will not be able to dictate play in such commanding fashion against a near-perfect Portuguese side. Paul Bento has his team playing well-disciplined soccer and is a side determined to keep its shape and create many opportunities on the counter. Moreover, Portugal has the best player on either team in Ronaldo, a true game-breaker in top-form that can wreak havoc on the Spanish defense.
Portugal will likely soak up pressure for the majority of the match, but do possess the quality and finishing ability to net a late breakthrough. The Spaniards have sleepwalked through the early stages of competition and don’t be surprised if that catches up to them in this all-Iberian affair. Expect a tightly-played contest with the Portuguese defense resisting the many Spanish advances. Don’t be surprised if this game goes into extra time either as a result of the minimal opportunities this game should produce. Ultimately, look for Portugal to use their decisive advantage on the flanks to test the interior of Spain’s defense, likely creating enough chances at goal to see them through to Sunday’s final.