Eight players who will take the pitch for Spain on Wednesday started in that match; for Portugal, it’s six. Cristiano Ronaldo, João Moutinho, Nani, João Pereira, Raul Meireles and Bruno Alves were all starters in that game. Rui Patrício and Pepe were halftime substitutes for Portugal, while Cesc Fàbregas and Álvaro Arbeloa entered the game as subs for Spain.
Carles Puyol, David Villa and Ricardo Carvalho won’t be involved in Wednesday’s Euro 2012 quarterfinal, but these are essentially the same teams. Both have upgraded significantly at the left back position since then and now feature two of the best attacking left backs in the world. Hélder Postiga would have started both games if he didn’t pick up an injury in the quarterfinal. It’s the same Spain and Portugal.
Friendlies usually don’t matter much in terms of analyzing competitive fixtures, especially 19 months later, but these teams are too similar to dismiss that match as irrelevant. Spain and Portugal are, at this moment, essentially the same teams. They’re under the same managers, in the same formations, with the same relevant personnel.
There is, of course, a human factor worth noting. Spain were just coming off of a World Cup victory in November 2010, while Portugal had just recently named a new manager after an average World Cup and a poor start to their Euro 2012 qualifying campaign. The Portuguese players were fighting for pride and to win a place in their new manager’s first XI. Spain could have lost that match 10-0 and kept their dignity intact; post-World Cup friendlies are least relevant to the team that just won the World Cup.
For all the apparent similarities, though, Spain and Portugal do enter the Euro 2012 semifinals as different teams than the ones who played in that friendly. Beyond the obvious motivational factors, Spain look like a more cohesive team who is, somehow, even better at keeping the ball than they were then. The dynamic runs of Jordi Alba give the opposition something new to think about and David Silva has established himself as the world’s best attacking player outside of Real Madrid and Barcelona. Sergio Busquets isn’t young anymore. Fàbregas is comfortable as a center forward now, while Andrés Iniesta is comfortable on the left.
Portugal’s differences are less positive, which is incredible considering the strides they’ve made to become a team good enough to dispatch Denmark, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic en route to a major semifinal. The team that scored four times against Spain did so by attacking quickly and directly, something it seems the Portuguese have forgotten how to do. They have played as the measured and slow versions of themselves throughout the tournament, and have done nothing to indicate they’re going to duplicate their performance in that friendly — not even necessarily in the result, but also from a stylistic standpoint.
There have been flashes of that Portugal team in Poland and Ukraine, however. They haven’t started quickly in any of their matches, but they showed that they were capable of fast, direct counter attacks against both Denmark and the Netherlands. A stylistic repeat of their friendly against Spain seems unlikely given the performances of both teams so far in the Euros, but Paulo Bento’s side has shown, for brief periods of time, that they’re capable of playing that way.
Their match against Germany seems to indicate that Bento prefers to sit back and play conservatively against truly elite sides, but perhaps he was just accounting for Germany’s style of play. Spain are more accomplished than Germany and have as least as much raw talent (if not more) among their ranks, but they don’t play the same way. Germany can pass and keep the ball, but they like to play a quicker game than Spain, and they’re lethal on the counter. Portugal might be willing to play a more aggressive game against Spain, not because they respect them any less, but just because an up-and-down, long-pass-laden track meet isn’t their style. If Portugal tried to play that type of match against Germany, they would have been torn apart.
Spain are the better of the two sides in this semifinal and the deserved favorites, but Portugal have both a history of success against Spain and the personnel to make their life difficult. Cristiano Ronaldo has emerged as the most influential attacking player in the tournament over the last two matches after he got off to a terrible start in his first two. He’s not going to get a lot of touches, and even though that will have a lot to do with Spain’s style of play and general incredible aptitude for possession and very little to do with faults on the part of him or his teammates, he’s going to have to make the most of those touches. He didn’t get many against Germany, and he did very little with them. He will get even fewer touches against Spain.
Even if Spain are not at their best and even if Portugal are able to employ the style they used in that 4-0 friendly victory over their Iberian rivals, they’ll probably need Ronaldo to provide a magical goal or assist out of nothing. They’ll also need Spain to miss good chances, and they might need Iker Casillas to make an error or two. Because as relevant as that friendly seems like it should be to Wednesday’s game, Spain haven’t conceded in the knockout stages of the last two major finals. They’re almost certainly not going to get outplayed, but Portugal have what it takes to nick a result anyway.
Monty the Psychic Metal Disk says: Come on, you’ve seen this game before. 1-0 Spain.
Game Date/Time: Wednesday, June 27, 2:45 p.m. ET, 8:45 p.m. local
Venue: Donbass Arena, Donetsk, Ukraine
TV: ESPN (U.S. – English), ESPN Deportes (U.S. – Spanish), BBC One (U.K.), TSN (Canada)
and.. last but not the least, i guess it would be ending by Portugal 2 – 1 Spain 😀
how about you guys??
let’s enjoy the match!! 🙂