Joao Pereira: Portugal don't need to change to beat Spain in Euro 2012 semi-final
Portugal defender says his team will play their own game against the reigning champions
Monday 25 June 2012
Some teams quake before Spain. Not Portugal. Spain have swept into the semi-finals of the European Championship unbeaten, the only blemish on the defending champions' record being an opening 1-1 draw with Italy.
Coach Vicente del Bosque has varied his tactics, fielding either a six-man midfield or a lone striker, in part as a way to trip up opponents.
That has forced some teams, most recently France in Saturday's 2-0 quarter-final loss to Spain, to adjust their tactics. But the Portuguese are having none of it, saying the key to Wednesday's semi-final against Spain is simple: be themselves.
"We have to keep united as we've been so far, and we have to be ourselves and not change the way we play just because we're going to face the reigning world and European champions," defender Joao Pereira said.
"We're going to play our game and try to attack, with all the respect we have for Spain."
That attack will be led by Cristiano Ronaldo, who is back on form after failing to score in Portugal's first two matches at the tournament. The Real Madrid striker has found his scoring touch since, netting twice against the Netherlands and one more against the Czech Republic to put Portugal into the last four.
In Poland and Ukraine, Ronaldo has finally put in the performances – and goals – for his national side that have made him one of the world's top club players.
That comes after the Portugal captain managed just one goal in each of the last three major tournaments he's played in – the 2006 and 2010 World Cups and the 2008 European Championship.
His performances this summer have gone a long way to shoring up his reputation with the national team, and he could silence the critics for good if he leads Portugal to a famous victory over Spain.
It would be extra sweet for Ronaldo to eliminate Spain, where five of his Real Madrid teammates play, including Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos and Xabi Alonso.
Alonso insisted helping his team reach the semi-finals was more important than winning his 100th cap after scoring twice to knock out France.
The former Liverpool man played a big part in ensuring the defending champions overcame Les Bleus with a first-half header and a late penalty in Donetsk.
"We're through to the semi-finals, which was the main thing," Alonso said. "We're pleased about that. The 100 caps is just an extra. It's in these matches that we have to show what we're about. We controlled it from start to finish and the team made things easy.
"I was happy about my 100th game and the goals. We know every game is difficult now but we're in the semi-finals and we're going to give it everything. We controlled the match, though we knew it wouldn't be easy against opponents that were defending deep.
"It became easier after the goal. It was a big quarter-final game and you have to know how to play them."
The Barcelona midfielder Cesc Fabregas knows Spain face a stiff test against Portugal. "Portugal will be very difficult," he said. "They have strong individuals, strong players. Apart from their good open play, they are very good on the counter-attack, and we'll have to work hard in that game. They have Ronaldo, Nani, Raul Meireles, Joao Moutinho. They have very good players."
Fabregas was pleased with Spain's performance against Laurent Blanc's side, and with his own contribution. "We played really well in the first half – actually one of the best first halfs in the tournament," said the former Arsenal captain, who led Spain's attack with Fernando Torres starting on the bench.
"I played a bit better, but we were playing against France, who played very well. We are very happy now.
"I tried hard, and I ran a lot and I feel good. No matter what happens, the most important thing is that Spain won."
The defender Sergio Ramos added that he believes his team has improved so far during this tournament. "This Spain team have taken a step forward," he said. "We showed what we're about in this victory and we're in the semi-finals now.
"We have to carry this on all the way to the final. We can't rest on our laurels because every game is a final.
"Portugal have done really well to get to the semi-finals, so it will be difficult."
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