You just can’t get away from Real Madrid and Barcelona. Wherever you may be the clubs are everywhere, and up for discussion. Euro 2012 is no different, and in an epic semi-final clash between Spain and Portugal two of the Spanish clubs finest players face off.
Cristiano Ronaldo is looking to lead his Portuguese side to victory with the captain’s motif on his arm and goals at his feet. Andrés Iniesta meanwhile is providing the sparkle in Spain’s precise, and to many, dull performances. The feeling is that Cristiano needs this victory more than Iniesta however, as he looks to banish the critics once and for all by powering his way to the final on July 1st. Iniesta has after all been and done it all before. The one they call ‘Don Andrés’ delivered the winning goal in South Africa to give his team the World Cup.
An outstanding moment for any player and one that Cristiano desires more than most. The driven, determined, competitive individual divides opinion but one thing that can’t be criticised is his work ethic; to be the best is mandatory for the 26-year-old. Thus far in Poland and Ukraine, he’s silenced those who look to insult him from the stands and behind the laptops. If they weren’t then the celebration after his goal against Czech Republic said it all; a snarl at the camera and kiss blown sarcastically let the doubters know he was still here.
He’s bagged 3 goals in total, and now has 6 overall at the European Championships he’s been involved in. Only Michel Platini and Alan Shearer have more – given the Portuguese’s age you wouldn’t bet against him surpassing the French and English greats. It’s no surprise the goals are coming as he’s also attempted 30 shots at the tournament, more than any other player...EVER.
Iniesta meanwhile has been attempting to keep his usual low profile, but has failed once again. That’s not a negative by the way; the shy and reserved Barça man likes to stay clear of the headlines and politics behind the scenes. He turns up for work and punches in on time, puts in his shift and goes home without making a fuss. Often he outshines his ‘co-workers’ but never harbours individual praise. His brilliance has been magnified in this tournament though given Spain’s less than eye-catching displays, and without his ingenuity the feverish level of criticism Vicente del Bosque’s team have received would be more considerable.
Although he’s yet to score, Iniesta has lit the way for Spain with his change of pace, slipped passes and slalom runs. If he goes home without a goal it will be a travesty, such has been the impression he has made – the possibility of him producing a moment similar to the one in South Africa can’t be ruled out either. David Villa’s absence required that a figure take on the ownership of breaking between the lines and acknowledging the necessity to create space, in his stride Iniesta has took that responsibility.
Two clubs, two nations, two players and only one winner. Cristiano has an incredible opportunity to deliver a defining moment his career needs, one that all the true greats have conjured up. The critics’ response will be muted, and more importantly on a personal level Cristiano can claim to have conquered at the highest level. If he does not, then the murmurings will continue and the anger will continue to overflow at those who belittle his abilities and achievements. Iniesta is applauded in every stadium in Spain, being Portuguese Cristiano can’t expect that but what he will seek is respect.
Cristiano Ronaldo to score and for Portugal to qualify is at 5.50, while he’s at 4.50 to get Man of the Match. Andrés Iniesta to score first and Spain to win is found at 15.00, and at 7.50 to be Man of the Match.