Having swept past France to reach the semi-finals, Spain can expect a more exacting ordeal today when they face a Portugal team who beat them 4-0 in their last meeting.
However, Spain have largely held the upper hand against their Iberian rivals, losing just nine times in 37 encounters. The teams have changed little since: Nine members of Portugal’s likely starting line-up today featured in the game, while Spain are expected to start with eight of the same players.
After match-winning performances against the Netherlands and the Czech Republic, Portuguese captain Cristiano Ronaldo is finally making his mark at a major tournament and Spain’s ability to keep him quiet will be pivotal.
“We will be taking special care of Ronaldo,” promised Spain coach Vicente del Bosque. “It won’t be an individual marking thing. There will be permanent support from midfield.”
The match should provide an intriguing clash of styles, with Spain likely to dominate possession while Portugal await opportunities to spring forward on the counter-attack. Portugal midfielder Custodio says his side have faith in their own ability and can handle Spain.
“We know that they are a great team, but we’ll look to beat them by playing to our strengths,” said Custodio. “We’ll fight to the end.”
Ronaldo dismisses Spanish fatigue claims
Meanwhile, Ronaldo dismissed talk that their Spanish rivals have reason to complain because they have two days less to recover before the clash.
“Three days rest is more than sufficient,” said Ronaldo. “They’ve said that having two fewer days rest is a disadvantage, but as a professional I don’t think it’s important. It’ll be a hard clash but we’re ready and will do our best.”
Ronaldo leads the scoring chart alongside Germany’s Mario Gomez and while pressure will be on the talisman to continue his scoring spree, he insisted he remains calm before the Iberian clash.
“These games are part of my life. I have ten years experience so I’m used to them. Responsibility yes, pressure no.”
Spain eyeing prestigious hat-trick
While Spain are gunning to become the first team to win three consecutive major international tournaments, Portugal are aiming to reach a first final since their heartbreaking loss to Greece as hosts of Euro 2004.
The two sides’ records in semi-finals are sharply contrasting. Spain have never been beaten at this stage of an international competition, but Portugal have won only once in five attempts, a record they would be looking to change tonight.
“These games are part of my life. I have ten years playing them in clubs and for the national side so I have to be used to them. Responsibility yes, pressure no.”
Vicente del Bosque
“We will be taking special care of Cristiano Ronaldo. It won’t be an individual marking thing. There will be permanent support from midfield.”
Published In The Express Tribune, June 27th, 2012.
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