Portugal vs. Spain: 5 Keys to a Portuguese Victory in Euro 2012 Semifinal Match
Put the ball in the air.
Portugal has shown it is capable of beating Spain.
Ronaldo vs. Gerard Pique. Andres Iniesta vs. Pepe. Cesc Fabregas vs. Fabio Coentrao.
No, this is not a rematch of Spain's famous El Clasico, it is just a taste of what the first Euro 2012 semifinal gives us.
Defending champions Spain will take on Portugal and a red-hot Cristiano Ronaldo. The Iberian clash will pit two of the world's most talented starting XIs against each other.
The winner will earn the right to play for European glory on July 1st.
These two teams are very familiar with each other. It was Spain who knocked Portugal out of the 2010 World Cup with a lone goal before going on to win the tournament.
The next time they met, Cristiano Ronaldo led his team to a 4-0 dominance of Spain in a friendly. Both of those matches will be studied extensively by both sides in preparation for this bout.
What are the keys to winning for Portugal? Read on to find out.
Afterwards, check out the 5 Keys to a Spanish Victory.
Attack the Fullbacks
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With Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani employed in Portugal's 4-3-3, the wide match-ups are the most important of any.
Most scoring chances will come on the break for Portugal and getting the ball to their wingers will be an essential part of their game plan.
On the left, Fabio Coentrao should help Ronaldo continuously overrun Arbeloa. That will call Spain's midfield and center backs into action to take pressure off the right back.
Pique has not been much help in the tournament thus far and he will be Arbeloa's first line of cover. The two defensive midfield pivots and Spain's right-side midfielders will also be key here.
Ronaldo will need to beat Arbeloa on the outside so that he can send the ball into the box. If he is forced inside, he will need to be quick in passing to beat Sergio Busquets and any other help Arbeloa receives.
On the opposite end, Nani will need to do the same against Jordi Alba and Sergio Ramos. His night will likely be much more difficult.
The great advantage for Portugal is that any extra attention they earn from the Spaniards will create more chances for the other to get into position to create chances.
Put the Ball in the Air
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Height is one of many advantages for Portugal. The number of players Spain has who can cause problems in the air is lower than most teams.
Aside from Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos, there is no one who will need special attention when Spain get a corner of a set piece.
So defending should not be an issue, as long as Pepe does not have another lapse in concentration like against Germany. But what about attacking in the air?
Well those instances also favor the Portuguese. Not only are Pepe and Bruno Alves going to be hard to mark, but Portugal also has 6'3" Hugo Almeida playing in the middle of their attack.
Spain has some height in Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos and Sergio Busquets, but none have been at their best this summer and all have been weak in the air all season long.
This all goes without mentioning the most dangerous weapon at Portugal's disposal: Cristiano Ronaldo.
Arguably the best player in the world, Ronaldo is incredible in the air and any Barcelona player wearing red knows it.
If Portugal can put a lot of crosses and corners into the box, they will have a very good chance of beating Spain.
Seal off Short Passing Lanes
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Whether employing Fernando Torres as a striker or a midfielder as a false nine, Spain's front three will aim to attack Portugal on the ground with short, quick passes.
This will play to Portugal's advantage for the most part.
Portugal's back line matches up very well with a narrow passing side like Spain. The ball will almost never be put in the air and when it does, Portugal has a distinct advantage.
Pepe, Bruno Alves and Fabio Coentrao have the pace and positioning to limit the space for Spain's attacking midfielders.
Miguel Veloso will also be key here since he will be the cover for defense while also the deepest midfielder pressing Spain's middle three.
If he has to mark Spain's central attacker, he can make the jobs of the central defenders incredible easy and can give them incredible range to close off Spain's passing lanes.
Press, Press, Press... Then Be Decisive
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Just like Portugal, Spain's midfielders will press every time they lose the ball. This worked extremely well in their last friendly and will be key in the semifinals as well.
Joao Moutinho and Raul Meireles will need to be very quick on the ball. They will also have to be very focused and attentive off it.
As soon as the midfielders win the ball, it is important that they find space away from Spain's midfielders to find a teammate.
Those teammates need to be aware of Spanish players and be ready to not only receive the ball in traffic, but be aware of where the second pass will be at all times.
Pressing Spain's high line will also be an important part of making sure the counterattack is effective.
With the speed on the wings and the passing quality of Portugal's central midfield, beating Spain's high line is very possible if the first pass is sharp and the first touch toward goal.
It is important for Portugal to keep movement fast, but also be swift with decision making. Their counter is one of the best in football so they are well-matched to beat Spain.
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Spain has not looked unbeatable, but one thing is still clear: until they are defeated, Spain is the team to beat. As defending European and world champions, all roads to titles will go through the Spaniards.
Portugal must not let this affect them. They have been in good form over the last few matches, but have not played an in-form, world class team.
Spain will be their biggest test. Thankfully for Portugal, they know they can beat La Furia Roja.
It was just a friendly, but their 2010 4-0 thrashing of La Furia Roja showed that press Spain's midfield can create a lot of quick chances.
Now, a repeat of that score is highly unlikely, but Portugal should still press Xavi, Ineista and company when there is a chance for a quick counter.
Portugal's defense is quick and can play a high line against Spain, but pressing the midfield will allow Portugal to play further back and control Spain's attacking midfielders.
This will also give them a chance to pressure Spain's defenders into making an early mistake—which has been common in this tournament.
With Ronaldo in incredible form and Portugal's defense, height, and speed causing favorable match-ups, confidence should be very high going into this semifinal match.