Reigning champions Spain do battle with Portugal in their Euro 2012 semi-final on Wednesday with one man on coach Vicente del Bosque’s mind.
Paulo Bento’s Portugal possess one of the most damaging players at the tournament in Poland and Ukraine with Cristiano Ronaldo’s three goals to date and constant threat helping them into the last four in style.
The Spaniards know Ronaldo all too well with four likely starters being team-mates of his at Real Madrid, while another five have played against him countless times for Barcelona.
Ronaldo scored the winner as Portugal played the Czech Republic off the park in their 1-0 quarter-final win and will pose a threat to Spain, who were thoroughly dominant against France to win 2-0.
Despite striker Helder Postiga sidelined with a hamstring injury, Del Bosque is not expecting Bento to spring any major tactical surprises.
“They are going to keep the 4-3-3 that they have used so far,” Del Bosque said.
“It is true that the other teams that we have faced have made reinforcements to their defence, but I don’t expect that Portugal will change anything.”
Portugal have been lethal on the counter-attack in wins against the Czechs and the Netherlands and although they required a playoff to reach the tournament, they appear to have reached their peak at the right time.
“Portugal have players like Nani, who is a very intelligent footballer, (Joao) Moutinho with his clever passes, (Raul) Meireles and his powerful shots from outside of the area,” Del Bosque said.
“They have strong and powerful defenders and two full-backs that fit well in their attacking shape.”
But with Ronaldo on the other side, Del Bosque knows that Spain’s possession style could play into the hands of Portugal, as it did when they handed Spain their biggest defeat since 1950 with a 4-0 friendly win in Lisbon in 2010.
“They don’t need much of the ball because with one counter-attack or one long ball they have Ronaldo,” he said.
“It is obvious that he is a one-off; there is nobody else like him. I would like to keep him quiet and not let him play, but this will need lots of team-work in order to deny him space when Portugal have the ball.”
Del Bosque has raised eyebrows throughout the tournament by fielding an 11 without a recognised striker.
Barcelona midfielder Cesc Fabregas has occupied the ‘false nine’ position for much of the tournament, relegating Chelsea striker Fernando Torres to bit-part roles after a lean season.
World-class midfielders Xavi, Andreas Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, Xabi Alonso and David Silva lend support to effectively comprise a six-man, interchangeable midfield.
Spain maintain their favourites tag as the reigning world and European champions but will be wary of a dangerous Portugal side sure to make this a memorable Iberian clash.
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