Spain know only too well show-stealer Cristiano Ronaldo can settle the Iberian clasico with Portugal

Winger had a reputation for not performing in the big matches – not any more

Opalenica

Part of the role of a nation's media during a major championship is often assumed to be providing a generous helping of positivity. Yet the triumphalism is firmly on hold among the press corps following the European champions, Spain. Within minutes of the final whistle in the 2-0 win over France in Saturday's quarter-final, the sports newspaper Marca wrote with some trepidation that "when Cristiano gets into a good run, he's unstoppable".

Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo is the most visible player at Euro 2012 and he has been propelled into the spotlight, in part, by a Real Madrid culture that in recent years has put the star individual on a pedestal. The forward has had an astonishing three seasons in which he has scored 146 goals at a rate of more than one per game.

Vicente Del Bosque's Spanish XI for tonight's semi-final in Donetsk is likely to feature four players with whom Ronaldo shares a club dressing room. Yet as Marca wrote, knowing him and stopping him are two different things.

As the Portugal midfielder Custodio said this week: "Everybody knows Cristiano and his qualities. He's the most complete player I know, both physically and technically."

More and more Spanish journalists have arrived at Portugal's training base here in the Polish town of Opalenica this week, the main Madrid-based correspondents being joined by more who realise that a player who astounds Spain on a weekly basis now poses a genuine threat to the country's hold on the European title.

If the Spaniards are looking for clues regarding how Portugal will approach the semi-final, however, they might be disappointed. As Custodio said, the secret is that there is no secret. "Hard work" is how Ronaldo described the recipe of Portugal's success, in an echo of the no-frills approach of the coach, Paulo Bento. It is something that Ronaldo has personified in every training session since he attracted widespread criticism for a series of misses against Denmark, and it is paying off.

"I knew the goals would come," said Ronaldo.

Those who have persisted in labelling Ronaldo as a ducker of big matches are being forced to change their tune. Three goals, against the Netherlands and the Czech Republic, have followed on from three in the last three clasicos of the Spanish season. His winner against Barcelona at the Nou Camp in April all but sealed the return of the La Liga title to the Bernabeu for the first time since 2008.

The Euro 2012 semi-final has more than a hint of the clasico about it. On Sunday, the Portugal right-back Joao Pereira had not been addressing a press conference for more than a few minutes when he proclaimed: "It's going be the Iberian derby, and a great game of football."

It might be assumed that the gap between Portugal and Spain is a little wider than that which separates the two biggest rivals in the latter's domestic league, Real Madrid and Barcelona. Still, as somebody who sets himself steep targets, Ronaldo is revelling in the unaccustomed role of underdog.

"We weren't favourites before the tournament started, and we're not favourites now," he said.

It helps to stick to a theme that has fostered togetherness. In the beginning only the Portugal players believed they had a chance, as their country's media fretted over unconvincing performances in friendlies. A group of players who are naturally close, pleased to see each other after seasons in leagues across Europe, have had a genuine sense of embarking on an adventure.

"It's great to see so many friends, and for us to be together, always speaking Portuguese," said Ronaldo in his first few days after joining the squad.

While this may be Portugal's third European Championship semi-final in the last four tournaments, the players look upon the challenge with fresh eyes. Few bear the scars of Euro 2004's heartbreaking near miss, when Greece shocked the world by beating the hosts in the final. Ronaldo is Portugal's only survivor from the match against Spain in Lisbon in that tournament, when Nuno Gomes' second-half goal gave Portugal their only competitive win over their neighbours.

La Furia Roja may be a vastly different beast now, but Ronaldo is different, too. The teenager who wept on the Estadio da Luz pitch after the defeat by Greece is now a man, albeit one with a burning desire to right that wrong.

The outstanding midfielder Joao Moutinho is just one of a number of Portugal players who have described Ronaldo as "a great friend and a great leader" since the squad arrived in Poland. Ronaldo's detractors laughed as he swore and threw his arms up after a misplaced Helder Postiga pass in the quarter-final against the Czechs. For Portugal, this is merely evidence of his exactingly high standards.

Spain need no convincing of his worth. They must just hope that forewarned is forearmed.

 

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest in Sport
Sport
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

How to find gold

Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

Not born in the USA

Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
10 best balsamic vinegars

10 best balsamic vinegars

Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy