Spain and Portugal play out an Iberian derby on Wednesday in the first of the Euro 2012 semi-finals, with a place in the final against Germany or Italy on the line.
Spain will enter the game as overwhelming favourites, and rightly so given their quality and ability. La Roja topped Group C with seven points out of a possible nine, with a draw against Italy and wins over Republic of Ireland and Croatia seeing them through. A commanding 2-0 win over a hapless France in the quarter-finals followed, with Xabi Alonso bagging an unlikely brace in his 100th cap.
Vicente del Bosque’s men have yet to be thoroughly tested by their opponents, and their usual dominance of possession has seen them breeze past teams without really replicating the scintillating football of 2008 or 2010. The team selection in this one will be interesting, as Del Bosque must decide whether to start an established striker or continue to bank on his dearth of midfield talent.
Fernando Torres and Pedro looked dangerous when they came on against France, offering something different with their pace and threat in behind. The Spaniards’ defence has yet to be troubled also, but with Cristiano Ronaldo in wait the likes of Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique can expect to be called into action in this game.
Portugal have recovered from an opening-day defeat to Germany to string together three wins and make the last four. Paulo Bento’s men were worthy winners against Denmark, Netherlands and Czech Republic, with momentum starting to build. A 1-0 win over the Czechs in the last round does not tell the full story of their dominance, and the only criticism of the Portuguese team is that they need to take more of their chances to challenge for glory.
The man of the moment is Ronaldo, who has put inaccuracy and criticism behind him to star in Portugal’s last two matches. A brace against Netherlands and the winner against Czech Republic has been the difference between Portugal and their opponents, and the Real Madrid superstar will now be looking to claim the scalp of the world champions.
Nani’s battle against attacking Spanish left-back Jordi Alba will be an intriguing dual, whilst Joao Moutinho is given the task of trying to break up the endless passing circles of La Roja’s world-class midfield.
This will be an exciting and open game, and may well need extra-time to separate these two bitter Iberian rivals.