Ahead of tonight’s semi-final clash between neighbours Spain and Portugal, we take a look at the key on-pitch battles and bring you the key stats and facts you need to choose your favourite team now that England are out…
Cristiano Ronaldo v Alvaro Arbeloa
Although Cristiano Ronaldo likes to occasionally launch attacks from elsewhere he predominantly stays on the left wing and looks for any opportunity to shoot or cross. He is Portugal’s main goal threat, having bagged three goals and taken more shots than anyone else in the tournament. Alvaro Arbeloa will know his Real Madrid team-mate well and will have to exploit all of his inside knowledge to keep the Portuguese quiet. The Spaniard coped well against Franck Ribery and Florent Malouda in the quarter-final with France and also demonstrated his ability to get forward if afforded space. Spanish coach Vincente del Bosque will no doubt be encouraging his fullback to attack when possible and force Ronaldo to track back and defend or risk leaving Fabio Coentrao exposed behind him. For Portugal to get a result tonight they will need Ronaldo to be on his best form. All Portugal’s hopes are pinned on him.
Miguel Veloso v Andres Iniesta
Miguel Veloso is the Portuguese holding midfielder, a role that against Spain will be as important as it is difficult; there are so many quality attacking players in the Spanish midfield that he will have his work cut out stopping them from playing their game. However, his battle with Andres Iniesta is likely to be the most crucial. The Spanish maestro has been named man of the match twice in the tournament and if afforded space has both the dribbling and passing ability to scythe open the Portuguese defence. In what will no doubt be an exhausting ninety minutes, Veloso will have to stay tight to the Spaniard otherwise he could well end up chasing shadows and find himself on the losing side. Veloso was less than effective in the quarter-final against the Czech Republic and will have to step his performance up a gear against the reigning World and European Champions.
Joao Moutinho v Sergio Busquets
Joao Moutinho plays a similar role for Portugal to that of Xavi Hernandez in the Spanish team. He is integral in the transition between defence and attack as he looks to provide inspiration and a killer pass, usually to release Ronaldo. Sergio Busquets acts as the defensive part of the Spanish midfield, shielding his defence and breaking up opposition attacks. His most important job will be to minimise the amount of time Moutinho gets on the ball and stop him finding Ronaldo. If the Spaniard is able to stop Moutinho launching counter-attacks then he will blunt Portugal’s most potent attacking weapon.
Cesc Fabregas v Pepe
Cesc Fabregas is thriving in his new forward role in Del Bosque’s six man midfield. He has scored two goals so far in the competition, playing in a slightly more attacking position than usual. However, if the Barcelona midfielder wants to add to his tally he will have to get past Pepe who has been integral to Portugal’s defence during the tournament. According to the Castrol Edge player ratings index, Pepe is the second best player in the tournament behind teammate Cristiano Ronaldo. The defender has not only been rock-solid at the back, but has also posed a threat from set pieces and when bringing the ball out of defence. The Real Madrid man has already scored one with his head this tournament. One on one Pepe may be able to handle the threat of Fabregas, but the fluid movement of Spain’s midfield may be too much to handle.
THE STORY SO FAR…
Spain topped Group C with a 1-1 draw against Italy followed by a 4-0 win over Ireland and 1-0 victory against Croatia. They then cruised through their quarter-final clash against a dismal French side last Saturday, winning 2-0.
Portugal finished runners-up in Group B behind Germany. They lost in their opening game to the Germans 1-0 before recording a 3-2 win and a 2-1 over Denmark and Holland respectively. They won their quarter-final with the Czech Republic 1-0 thanks to a late goal from Cristiano Ronaldo.
Whoever comes out on top in this Iberian clash will face either Italy or Germany in the final on Sunday.
STATS AND FACTS…
Top three players from each side according to the Official Euro 2012 Castrol Edge Player ratings:
PORTUGAL: Ronaldo 9.68; Pepe 9.61; Bruno Alvez 8.78
SPAIN: Xabi Alonso 9.48; Andres Iniesta 9.43; Gerard Pique 9.38
While Ronaldo and Pepe are the two highest ranked players, Spain have a staggering eight players in the top 20
David Silva has the equal most assists in the tournament with three.
Nani and Joao Moutinho top Portugal’s assist charts with two each.
Ronaldo has equal most goals in the tournament with three.
Fernando Torres, Cesc Fabregas and Xabi Alonso are all joint top-scorers for Spain with two each.
Of the players who have completed the most passes during the tournament, six of the top eight are Spanish. Xavi Hernandez is the most with 371 passes completed at a success rate of 88 per cent.
Joao Moutinho has completed the most for Portugal with 158 at a success rate of 74 per cent.
Portugal won the most recent meeting between the two sides - 4-0 in a friendly in November 2010. Their last competitive meeting came in the Last 16 stage of the 2010 World Cup - Portugal were beaten 1-0. Spain lost to Portugal 1-0 in Euro 2004 and the sides drew 1-1 in the Euros in 1984.
DID YOU KNOW…
Following Real Madrid’s early domination of the European Cup, the national team won the European Championships at their first attempt in 1964 by beating the Soviet Union in the final in Madrid.
Spain’s only international five goal haul was incidentally against Portugal in 1934 by Isidro Langara.
Spain will be the first team ever to retain a European Championship trophy if they can get past Portugal and win it this year. There are six players still remaining from their 2008 winning team: Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas, David Silva, and Xavi Hernandez.
Spain will also be the first international team to win three major trophies in a row.
Portugal suffered a training ground bust-up following their win over the Czech Republic. Ricardo Quaresma and Miguel Lopes had to be separated following a clash, perhaps suggesting that the pressure is starting to get to the Portuguese squad.
Cristiano Ronaldo has not been able to replicate his incredible Real Madrid goal scoring record of over a goal a game with Portugal. The winger averages closer to a goal every three games for his country.
Paulo Bento, the Portugal coach, may take confidence from the fact that the first and only other time he has been to Donetsk was with Sporting Clube de Portugal who won 1-0 over Shakhtar Donetsk. His side that day also included Miguel Veloso, Rui Patricio and Helder Postiga.
With their intricate passing and flair Spain are hotly tipped to progress to the Final but with Ronaldo on the field Portugal will always be a threat as the forward looks to replicate his scintillating club form for his country.