One team will be in the Euro 2012 final by this time tomorrow. Spain, as defending champions, will no doubt be the favourites in many eyes. Portugal however have begun to impress, especially with Ronaldo finally hitting form in a Portugal shirt. The world will be watching and hoping that this game delivers upon its huge expectations.
Portugal had arguably the hardest route to the knockout stages of the Euros. Being drawn with Germany and Holland was always going to make the group stages tough for Portugal and they were fortunate that Holland suffered from problems within their camp. Despite losing their first game to Germany, Portugal managed to pick up wins over Denmark and Holland to secure second place within Group B, holding off the challenge from a surprisingly feisty Denmark. Portugal went on to face Czech Republic in the Quarter Finals, with Cristiano Ronaldo heading the only goal in a 1-0 win. Portugal could easily have won by two or three however, with Ronaldo hitting the woodwork twice in the first half.
In order to beat Spain, Portugal will need their No.7 to be at his best and he needs no incentive. Having already won the Liga BBVA title from Barcelona this season, Ronaldo will be itching to further embarrass his Barcelona opposition, including Pique, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets. Portugal will also require their slightly shaky defence to hold tight against a Spain team known for their attacking domination. In particular, Pepe and Fabio Coentrao will be relied upon heavily to protect the Portugal goal from a Spanish onslaught. Portugal do have midfield talents in Joao Moutinho and Raul Meireles, but expect to see them chasing down Xavi and Iniesta in the middle of the park all night.
Portugal’s road may have been harder, but Spain have also had their challenges. Italy managed to stun them on several occasions, with Spain narrowly escaping with a 1-1 draw in their first game. After that however, Spain’s dominance proved too much. Ireland suffered a 4-0 loss and despite Croatia’s best efforts, Spain finished top of the group with a 1-0 victory. In the Quarters, they made France look ordinary in a 2-0 win, with Xabi Alonso picking up two goals on his 100th cap for Spain. Much has been made of Del Bosque’s tactics this tournament however. Spain have started without a recognised striker in two of their four matches, despite Fernando Torres picking up two goals against Ireland. Evidently Spain feel that their passing game bypasses the need for a striker; a tactic that has so far paid dividends.
Against Portugal, Spain will be relying heavily on their defence to keep Ronaldo and Nani quiet. Sergio Ramos and Pique in particular will have to be on their toes against the quick Ronaldo. Other than that, expect it to be business as usual for Spain, with Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets pulling the strings in the middle. You would expect Spain to start with Torres against a relatively weak Portugal defence, but Spain may also be inclined to not fix what isn’t broken. Without Torres, expect to see David Silva or Cesc Fabregas as the main goal threat to Portugal but really, goals could come from anywhere in this team.
Despite the heroics of Cristiano Ronaldo, it’s hard to see Portugal being the team to overcome Spain’s prolific attack. The defending champions have so far proved the critics of their tactics wrong and their passing game may just be too much for Portugal. That being said, when Ronaldo is at his best, it’s hard for any team to stop him. Could we maybe see an upset after all?
Verdict: A narrow 2-1 win to Spain.