Euro 2012: Expert v Expert Preview - Portugal v Spain

Portuguese Persective   Ben Shave 

On December 18th 1921, Portugal made their competitive bow in Madrid, against their Iberian neighbours Spain. The home side ran out 3-1 winners on that occasion, and in the 90-odd that have passed since; the two have met a further 33 times. Game number 35 is potentially the most significant since the first.

Portugal’s quarter final victory over the Czech Republic lacked the pulse-quickening end-to-end drama of their final group match against the Netherlands, but given the negative tactics of their opponents, it was perhaps more impressive. Paulo Bento described the second half as “an extraordinary performance. We dominated, we were stronger in our offensive transitions, and we created enough chances not to have suffered so much.”

Given Spain’s abilities, it is reasonable to anticipate more suffering on the menu for the Selecção, and yet there remains a sense of optimism. Friday’s ‘A Bola’ bore the headline ‘Unstoppable’, and the mood compared to the last time Portugal faced Spain in a competitive fixture is remarkable.

Of course, much has changed since the second round of the 2010 World Cup. Carlos Queiroz has gone, Paulo Bento has restored both public faith and tactical certainty, and perhaps most importantly, Portugal have the memory of October 2010’s 4-0 victory over Spain at the Estádio da Luz to draw upon.

Friendly or no friendly, Spain were outclassed by Portugal that night, and although there have been few direct references to it during the build-up to this encounter, the residual confidence surely remains, at least to some extent.

Of course, three key players on that occasion are absent – Carlos Martins and Danny are injured, whilst Hélder Postiga will not recover from a hamstring strain in time – but the scintillating form displayed by Fábio Coentrão, João Moutinho and Cristiano Ronaldo in particular has many in Portugal dreaming of a repeat performance…or at least another victory.

Score Prediction: Portugal 1-1 Spain (Portugal win on penalties)

Portugal to win, including extra time and penalties at 2.75, Portugal to have over 5.5 shots on goal at 1.65, Cristiano Ronaldo to score last goal at 6.25

Spanish perspective   Paul Wilkes 

The effectiveness of their style has been called into doubt, but little can be said of Spain's capacity to get results. The control displayed against France further emphasised that few countries in the world can combat La Roja's method of play. Plenty have the theoretical ideas; practicality of carrying those plans out is a whole new ball game.

The Spanish media have used a considerable amount of time condemning the use of two holding-midfielders; it wasn't just Xabi Alonso's two goals that demonstrated how that time had been misspent. On his 100th appearance for his nation, he completed the most passes and tackles in the game, offering the rarity that is to outshine Xavi. It shouldn't have taken this performance for the eulogizing to begin; Vicente Del Bosque had previously stated: "they are hardly cavemen" when referencing his double pivot midfield.

A familiar face will be the biggest threat to Spain's chances of consecutive European Championship Finals; Cristiano Ronaldo will plot to bring down both club team-mates and El Clàsico rivals. Seven of the likely starting 22 play their football at the Santiago Bernabéu, it was also a former Real Madrid player that scored the last time Spain conceded a goal in the knockout stages of a major tournament back in 2006, Zinedine Zidane who celebrated his 40th birthday this week.

It's fair to say they haven't faced an individual as prominent as CR7 in the tournament to date; Álvaro Arbeloa will be forced deeper, his positioning high up the pitch against France caused problems by sheer presence alone. He offered width that was rarely used, but in receiving the ball he forced movement within the French defence.

Few changes are likely to be made up front, although Pedro may be up for consideration due to the directness he offers in behind the centre-backs, especially in-conjunction with a 'false nine'. Del Bosque described his selection before their match with France as an "internal debate.” Having previously been so assured, the greater the challenge; the greater the decisions that have to be made.

Score Prediction:  Spain 2-1 Portugal

Cristiano Ronaldo to score from outside the penalty box at 5.00; Spain to win in extra time at 10.50; Pepe to get a card at 2.50