The Iberian Peninsula will be on high alert on Wednesday, as Spain and Portugal collide in the semifinals of Euro 2012. The two countries last encounter was at the 2010 World Cup in the second round, with Spain going through with a tense 1-0 result.
Both sides have yet to play their absolute best football in this tournament as of yet, which means this could be a tantalizing spectacle to behold. After losing their first match to Germany, Portugal have won fixtures over Denmark, Holland and most recently, the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals. Spain opened their Euro account, with a draw to Italy, before recording victories over Ireland, Croatia and France in the quarterfinals.
Many eyes will be focused on the head to head matchup between Cristiano Ronaldo and Andres Iniesta. These two superstars have waged many a battle over the last few years, either with their club teams, or for national pride. Typically, Ronaldo loves to surge down the left flank, with cascading runs that can overwhelm the opposition. Ronaldo’s pace along with his brilliant finishes make him almost impossible to thwart.
Iniesta is a pragmatic, intelligent player, who uses guile and wisdom to make his point on the pitch. Whether it be his pin-point passing, or his understanding of where he has to be at all times, Iniesta can slow down the best players in the world. Both are brilliant in their own right, and it will be fascinating to watch these two magnificent players, battle wits on the field.
Portugal’s rising star in this tournament has been Joao Moutinho. The FC Porto midfielder has been sensational in this tournament, matching skill and smarts to provide leadership in the midfield. It was Moutinho’s brilliant cross that found Ronaldo’s head for a smashing finish that gave Portugal the victory over the Czechs. Moutinho has been a force for Portugal and will need to be yet again, if Portugal are to reach the finals.
Another player for Portugal that has had a strong tournament is Pepe. The Real Madrid defender isn’t the biggest player on the pitch, but plays the position with precision and force. Don’t let his smallish stature fool you, Pepe can be just as physical as the biggest men in the sport.
If Portugal have a weakness, it is at centre forward. Helder Postiga left the quarterfinal match with a thigh knock, and is listed as doubtful for the semifinal. Postiga hasn’t impressed in the tournament, but his experience could have helped Portugal. Hugo Almeida is a likely replacement for Postiga, but lacks the quality to support Ronaldo. Nani has yet to register a goal in the tournament so now would be a wonderful time for the Manchester United winger, to supply some offence, to ease the pressure of Ronaldo.
Spain has also seen players step up in this tournament. None more so than Xabi Alonso. The Real Madrid midfielder provided a brace against France, and his defensive work has been splendid. Alonso is the glue that holds the midfield together while Iniesta and Xavi work their magic on the outside.
Xavi continues to impress media and supporters alike. The Barcelona midfielder is known for his passing ability and can control the pace of the match from the midfield. If Xavi can demonstrate that form, Spain should advance to the finals.
One advantage Spain has is the keeper position. Iker Casillas is regarded by many as the best keeper in the world and has shown that ability at Euro 2012. Three clean sheets to his name, while only conceding one goal, has only enhanced Casillas’ resume. He will be called upon to make key saves, especially when facing his Real Madrid teammate Ronaldo.
If their is a chink in the Spain armour, it would be at the striker position. Fernando Torres did score twice against an overmatched Ireland side, but has looked agricultural on too many scoring opportunities. David Silva and Cesc Fabregas have seen action up front, but both are out-of-place at the forward position. Torres needs to step up and be counted, if Spain are to repeat as Euro champions.
Prediction: Expect another tense, taut affair. Spain will put all sorts of pressure on Ronaldo, leaving Nani and Almeida alone. One of those two will need to find the back of the net for Portugal to go through. Spain will try to control the pace of the match from the midfield, but at some point, they will need to finish off the possession with a goal. I think Spain will go through, but just barely with a 1-0 result.
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