The Iberian peninsula will descend on the Donbass Arena as Spain and Portugal go head-to-head in the first semi-final of the tournament. Portugal who played their own Quarter-final match last thursday have had an extra 48 hours rest over their opponent and it remains to be seen how much effect this will have on Wednesday night. Spain on the other hand have their eyes firmly set on rewriting the history books by becoming the first national team to win three successive major titles.
It’s the Tiki-Taka up against Counter-attacking football, add the fact that it’s a derby and you can expect a spectacle of a game between these two teams who can lay claim to many of the best players in the world.
The Spaniards beat France quite comfortably in their Quarter-final match courtesy of a brace from the indefatigable Xabi Alonso. The Spanish defence that has looked shaky sometimes during the group stage matches dealt conveniently with everything thrown at them by the French side as the partnership between Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos in centre-defence seems to be clicking at just the right time.
Spin beat Ireland 4-0 with their traditional 4-2-3-1 formation but have only recorded slim victories with the now popular false nine system. What this system guarantees is a big chunk of possession for Spain which makes it difficult for opponents to do anything meaningful with the ball whenever they eventually get it back. I’m no fan of the false nine system but I think we can all agree it has got Spain this far in this tournament and Vicente Del Bosque is most likely to stick with it in this semi-final match.
The Spanish team looked tired and exhausted in the concluding stages of their Quarter-final win over France and going up against a strong, aggressive Portuguese side, the Spaniards can only afford to have fit players on the pitch or they could be run over.
Spain should name an unchanged side for this match. I have a feeling Vicente Del Bosque feels at home playing the false nine system against the stronger sides in order to starve them of the ball. The essence of this system is passing football and keeping possession so I expect Fernando Torres to start from the bench again.
Paulo Bento’s team has steadily improved since the loss at the hands of Germany in their first match of the tournament. They were especially better in their Quarter-final match against Czech Republic and on another day would have scored more than once.
This is Portugal’s toughest task yet and it’s a match where Paulo Bento’s tactical acumen will be brought to the fore. Playing against Spain and conquering them will require some relentless defending and and a solid counter-attacking game plan. The centre-defence partnership of Pepe and Bruno Alves must hold their own against the marauding Spanish midfielders; while Meireles, Veloso and Moutinho will be required to provide adequate cover when defending, they must also be alert to receive the ball and initiate quick counter-attacking moves. Nani and Ronaldo have got to play very well on thursday night and the whole of the Portuguese nation should pray Almeida put away the chances when they appear.
CRISTIANO RONALDO is certainly the key man for Portugal. The Real Madrid man has finally delivered in a major tournament with his country silencing his critics in the process . He is in very good form at the moment, he has scored thrice (all in his last two matches), hit the post four times and has taken more shots than any other player in the competition. He seems to be the only man in the Portuguese camp that can breach the impenetrable defence of the Spaniards, tough task but not impossible for a player of Ronaldo’s quality. But will he get enough possession of the ball to hurt Spain?
ALVARO ARBELOA for me is the weakest link in the Spanish defence. With David Silva not inclined to running back to help on that wing, the right-back is often times always on his own and Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani could get something off him if they concentrate on his flank.
Paulo Bento should field the same side that started against the Czechs with only Helder Postiga expected to miss out due to the injury sustained in the quarter-final clash. Hugo Almeida should come in so expect some long balls to the tall striker while he holds them up to bring Ronaldo and Nani into play.
Spain – (4-3-3): Iker Casillas, Gerard Piqué, Sergio Ramos, Alvaro Arbeloa, Jordi Alba, Xavi, Xabi Alonso, Sergio Busquets, David Silva, Cesc Fabregas, Andres Iniesta
Portugal – (4-3-3): Rui Patrício, João Pereira, Bruno Alves, Pepe, Fábio Coentrão, Miguel Veloso, Raul Meireles, João Moutinho, Nani, Hugo Almeida, Cristiano Ronaldo
I think Portugal will be in a great position if they can score first in this tie. Scoring first will definitely unsettle Spain but at the same time, it’s no mean feat considering the fact that the defending champions have not conceded a goal in the knockout rounds of a major tournament since they came through the group stage of Euro 2008 – a run of eight games.
Spain must be wary of Ronaldo’s threat. I think he will be looking forward to going up against his club team-mates and will definitely savour beating them to the European Championship trophy.
Portugal will have to be super-patient in this match. It’s no secret they won’t get the ball for long periods but they must keep their shape and not lose concentration. Spain will pass the ball around to disrupt the shape of their opponent and bring them out of their comfort zone but if Portugal can stay firm, they will only pass among themselves without any result. The false nine system itself doesn’t allow for many shots on targets so if Portugal can defend solid and capitalize on one or two rare breaks, the Spaniards could be in for a shock.
PREDICTION: The Spanish team have more quality in their ranks than Portugal, especially in midfield where I think the match will be won. I seldom bet against the Spaniards and I won’t be going against them in this one.