Morientes up for rough night

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The Independent Online

If the Iberian media are to be taken seriously, tonight's encounter in the Estadio Jose Alvalade will end with one group of men in their death throes and the other dancing on their bodies. To say that the Group A decider is keenly anticipated is not so much of an understatement as a confirmation of banality. It is the match, so far, of the tournament, and the Spaniards, just as much as the locals, are relishing the prospect.

If the Iberian media are to be taken seriously, tonight's encounter in the Estadio Jose Alvalade will end with one group of men in their death throes and the other dancing on their bodies. To say that the Group A decider is keenly anticipated is not so much of an understatement as a confirmation of banality. It is the match, so far, of the tournament, and the Spaniards, just as much as the locals, are relishing the prospect.

Even Fernando Morientes, who expects to be singled out for some rough treatment by the Portuguese defence, perhaps tipped off by his good friend Luis Figo, smiled when he looked ahead. "It is going to be a game like no others," he said. "It is no good looking back, or reading the history or anything. This is a unique occasion. It will be special for both of us and, of course, it will be very important. The winners will stay in the tournament. The losers go home."

Morientes, who scored a delightful goal against Greece, appeared in that drawn match to have the movement and strength, not to mention skill and an understanding with his captain, Raul, that could trouble Portugal's back line.

"We know each other well, we have played so many times together we can guess the other's moves," he said. "Even in a very tight game, it helps a lot. But we know that Portugal will fight and fight in this game."

Last September, as the Spanish camp are fond of pointing out, they went to Guimaraes and won 3-0 in a friendly, so ending a long run of encounters, stretching back across four decades, in which Portugal had held the upper hand. Morientes, however, believes this is not a signal of optimism, merely a statistic to join the heap of other meaningless numbers and dates trotted out in the build-up to this thunderous occasion.

"There have been many draws, maybe it was our first win in 40 years, but it means nothing, this is such a different kind of game," he stressed. "All that matters is that we can play well again and, this time, win." To judge from their performance against Greece in Porto on Wednesday, Spain have the players and team to overcome the hosts, but still lack the mental strength and self-belief that can be so critical in decisive moments.

Morientes conceded that their attractive, intelligent and robust build-up play was not capped by the creation of clear chances or accurate shots. "It is a problem," he said. "We look good, we play well across the pitch, but it is difficult to penetrate defences at this level."

Against Greece, Spain forced 15 corners and had 11 shots, but only two were on target. "It is going to be different this time," Morientes promised.

For the record, the two nations have met 34 times, with Spain winning 16 to Portugal's six. As Morientes said, 12 were drawn. "But not this time," he added. "When I spoke to Luis [Figo], he said he hoped we would meet later in the tournament. Instead, now, we meet in a fight to the death." In a corrida-like atmosphere, Spain should have the resolve to survive a torrid night.

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