Spain will look to defend their Euro title as they take on Portugal in an all Iberian affair. The Spanish are favorites, but the rivarly carries great significance for the Portuguese.
Spain take on Portugal Wednesday in the first semifinal of Euro 2012. Spain have arguably the best midfield in the world, but no player at the tournament is better than Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo.
Just as in 2010, Spain rely on possession and accurate passing for success. They have averaged more than 60 percent possession for the tournament, while conceding only one goal thus far. Their 2-0 quarterfinal win over France on Saturday extended Spain's incredible run of eight shutouts in their last eight tournament knockout games.
Ronaldo in form
Criticized for underperforming in the opening games, Portuguese captain Cristiano Ronaldo has taken the tournament by storm. His three goals in the past two games have powered Portugal through to the semifinals.
Spain have yet to face any team with the attacking wing talent Portugal possess in Ronaldo and his former Manchester United teammate Nani. "We will be taking special care of Cristiano Ronaldo," Spanish Coach Vicente del Bosque said.
Portuguese Coach Paulo Bento has been questioned for playing Ronaldo on the wing, when his goal scoring talents might better be utilized at center forward, a position where Portugal is traditionally weaker. But in an interview with DW, UEFA journalist and BBC correspondent Andy Brassell said Ronaldo is not at his best up top. "When you have a player like that - one of the best in the world - you have to play him where he is most comfortable, and that is on the left wing," he said.
Players like Ronaldo, said Brassell, are no secret. "People see what he does in training every week," he said. "The question is how to stop him."
Spain's right back Alvero Arbeloa may struggle to deal with the attacking threat of both Ronaldo and Portuguese left back Fabio Coentrao, who Brassell said has been one of the best left backs at the tournament. "If you have one, you have to deal with the other," he said.
Portugal have scored six goals in their last three games after a slow start in their first match against Germany. They will hope to have luck on their side, as the Portuguese have hit the woodwork a European Championship record six times already this tournament.
Spain beat Portugal 1-0 in the first knockout round of World Cup 2010
The Iberian rivalry is full of history, but precedent favors Spain. The two sides have played 34 times. Spain have won 16 matches to Portugal's six. The Spanish knocked Portugal out in the round of 16 of the 2010 World Cup, but the Portuguese have the most recent upper hand, beating their neighbors 4-0 in a friendly last November.
In the two countries, the rivalry has grown in significance. "It is a big deal, there is no doubt about that, especially to the people of Portugal," said Brassell. The Portuguese will want to improve their record, having beaten the Spanish only once in a competitive game.
Spain are overwhelming favorites going into this game. The reigning European and World Cup champions are undefeated in their last 18 competitive games. They are looking to reach their third consecutive major tournament final - something only Germany has been able to do.
But with the attacking talent Portugal possess in Cristiano Ronaldo, they cannot be ruled out. The Portuguese captain will be looking to break precedent - he has never scored against Spain.
Author: David Raish
Editor: Mark Hallam