Portugal's player Cristiano Ronaldo (R) attends a training session at the Donbass Arena in Donetsk, June 26, 2012. Portugal will face Spain on Wednesday in the semi-final of the Euro 2012 soccer tournament . (Photo : REUTERS/Charles Platiau)
On Wednesday, all eyes will be on the battle of the Iberian Peninsula as Spain and Portugal faceoff in the semi-finals of the Euro Cup 2012.
Both teams have taken different routes to getting to this point and both teams have surprised in different ways.
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Portugal was drawn into the "Group of Death" which included the likes of Germany, Netherlands, and Denmark. Most pundits had Germany and Netherlands escaping the group with Portugal a mere dark horse. Two matches in and those doubts still lingered strongly. Their loss to Germany was not for a lack of effort, but Portugal simply did not look like a confident bunch. Their win over Denmark was barely a win as Portugal blew a 2-0 lead and only managed to win the match in the waning match.
In the first 15 minutes of their match to the Netherlands, they looked dreadful and soon found themselves in a 1-0 whole. However, they switched into another gear and ran away with the rest of the game with an elite defensive effort. They looked even better against the Czech Republic and many pundits have them defeating Spain.
Of course the major factor for Portugal is Cristiano Ronaldo who got off to a dreadful start in the tournament, but has since looked like the Greatest Player in the World with his play in the last two matches.
The defending Euro Cup Champions and World Cup Champions are on the cusp of making history if they can win this tournament. If they remain champions they would be the first international team ever to win three straight major titles. It would essentially make them the greatest international team of all time.
However, many would argue that they have been anything but the greatest side in the world through their first four games.
They were matched and often bettered in a 1-1 tie with Italy, before blowing off some steam with a 4-0 torching of Ireland. In the decisive match against Croatia the Spaniards struggled with their opponents' defensive. Despite pulling out the win, the effort gave rise to critiques of Spain lacking flair and dimension to overcome opponents parking defenseman on the box.
In their more recent match against France, the Spanish shut critics up with a dominant win over France that marked the eighth straight knockout round of a major tournament that Spain has administered a shutout.
On the whole, Spain has had the best defense in the entire tournament with just one goal against. In their World Cup victory in 2010, they only allowed two goals through seven games and in the 2008 Euro Spain allowed three goals in the first three matches before pitching three straight shutouts.
Player to Watch for Portugal:
Regardless of which team people think is better or has a better chance to win, there is one thing that no one can have any doubts about: Cristiano Ronaldo is the most dynamic and dangerous player on the field for either side. How he performs/if he performs will determine how this match plays out. If he is the same dynamic player of the past two games, Spain will suffer to establish its play. If Ronaldo is contained by the underrated Spanish defense, then Portugal will have to rely heavily on Nani, who is nowhere near as dangerous as Ronaldo.
Player to Watch for Spain:
Sergio Ramos is the big dog for Spain in this match. Not because of his scoring prowess or ability to make plays; Ramos will likely have the thankless job of guarding Ronaldo. If Ramos is able to cope with Ronaldo's speed and slow him down with a physical game, then Spain will win this easily. If he is caught flatfooted against the world's greatest player, then Spain is going to lose its chance at history.
Portugal Will Win If...
It plays aggressively and produces an efficient counterattack. Spain will undoubtedly control the sphere for about 60 percent of the match. However, if Portugal puts pressure on their rivals and forces them into a fast pace, then Spain will undoubtedly make mistakes that they almost never make. Ronaldo must also be a force. He is unlikely to get as many opportunities as he has had against the likes of Netherlands or Czech Republic, but he will get them. If he makes them count, Portugal will book its ticket to the final easily.
Spain Will Win If...
It controls the tempo. Spain is the master at controlling the tempo, making teams adjust to them, and frustrating them with inactivity and outlasting them mentally and physically. In their first match, the Italians were happy to sit back and absorb pressure; and it frustrated Spain. Don't expect Portugal to sit back and relax. They will pressure Spain into mistakes as quickly as possible. If Spain can weather the storm of pressure early on, then the Portuguese will slowly crumble under the fatigue and make the mistakes Spain awaits. They have been here numerous times and have been victorious.
Prediction: Spain will put themselves on the verge of history with a 1-0 victory over Portugal. Ronaldo will give them a few scares, but Spain will put together a strong effort for tactical genius and manager Vicente Del Bosque.
June 28: Euro Cup 2012 Semi-final Italy vs. Germany 2 PM ET
July 1: Euro Cup 2012 Final Spain/Portugal Vs. Italy/Germany 2 PM
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