Venue: Donbass Arena, Donetsk Date: Wednesday, 27 June Kick-off: 19:45 BST
So, who is the worlds greatest player? Is it Argentina’s Lionel Messi, or Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo?
Perhaps that great question will go some way to being answered tonight. Neither of them have won a major competition with their countries, and only one of them has the chance to do so this year. That’s why tonight, all the spotlights are aimed in the direction of the latter, Cristiano Ronaldo.
But if Spain or anyone else thinks that Portugal are a one man team, think again.
The last time these two sides met, Spain sustained their heaviest defeat since 1963, as Paulo Bento’s men walloped them 4-0. The goal scorers, you may ask?
Carlos Martins, a Hélder Postiga double, and Hugo Almeida.
So it isn’t just twinkle toed Ronaldo who writes all the headlines.
Unfortunately for Portugal, Hélder Postiga misses out tonight with a thigh injury, but is expected to be replaced by one of the goal scorers on that famous night in November 2010 – Hugo Almeida.
Spain meanwhile have no injury concerns, and Vincente del Bosque can select from a full compliment of players. He must decide whether to stick with former Gunner Cesc Fabregas in an advanced midfield position, or draft in one time Anfield Hero Fernando Torres, and it is the latter who is expected to get the nod.
The Key Players
A quick glance at the stats will tell you Cristiano Ronaldo is undoubtedly Portugal’s main threat tonight, having bagged an exasperating 60 goals in 55 appearances for Real Madrid last season. It would have been a phenomenal achievement, but for Messi’s 73 goals in 60 appearances for Barcelona.
It seems that no matter how well Ronaldo plays, he just can’t seem to step out of the Argentine’s shadow. Many have criticised him, particularly in his time at Manchester United, of failing to turn up in the big games. Indeed, the worlds second greatest player has failed to score against Spain in his last three attempts, and went missing in their encounter in the 2010 World Cup. Messi meanwhile has scored twice in three games against Spain!
Former Old Trafford teammate Nani will also give Spain cause for concern, though like Ronaldo, he too has a penchant to go missing when it matters. He has failed to score in Euro 2012 and has provided just one assist, though it would be dangerous to underestimate him; he has been known to score the occasional thunderbolt goal from 30 odd yards from out of the blue and can strike at any time.
Spain meanwhile have a galaxy of stars in their XI. They boast four current Barcelona players in their ranks, including Xavi, Iniesta, Fabregas and Busquets, and any one of those can cause Portugal problems. It is these players that are famed for using the “passing carousel” and tiki-taka style passing at the Nou Camp. If they can keep the ball away from Portugal and prevent them from getting it to Ronaldo, they have a great chance.
Manchester City’s David Silva can also cause any team problems. He scored 8 times and created 22 assists in 49 appearances for the Premier League Champions last season and was named in the PFA Premier League Team of the Year 2011–12 and Manchester City’s Player’s Player of the Year 2011–12.
Head to Head
If Spain are going to progress to the final for the third time in three successive major competitions, they will have to end a 54 year rut against Portugal. In that time, La Furia Roja have prevailed only twice. It took Portugal until 1948 to finally beat the Spanish however, having lost all fifteen of their first ever encounters.
The last time these two sides met, in a friendly in November 2010, a Spain side containing 10 players who started the 2010 World Cup Final were thrashed 4-0.
Did you know..?
Cristiano Ronaldo has six European Championship goals in total. Only Alan Shearer (seven) and Michel Platini (nine) have scored more in the history of the tournament. He will need to score a hat trick to peg back the current President of Uefa tonight – he scored seven hat tricks for Real Madrid last season as he inspired them to their La Liga triumph.
If Spain win Euro 2012, they will become the first side in history to have won three major competitions (Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup) in succession. If they achieve this feat, it will mean also that they will have set a new record of 12 European Championship matches unbeaten.
The last team to beat them in this competition were the Portuguese, at Euro 2004.
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