Portugal vs. Spain: 6 Key Battles to Watch in Euro 2012 Semifinal
Euro 2012 is winding up as the final four teams kick into action this week, with Portugal and Spain clashing in the first semifinal for the right to battle either Germany or Italy in the final.
This Iberian encounter will be a fascinating clash between the reigning World and European champions and a Portuguese side with plenty of attacking talent yet an oddly reserved style of play.
Key individual battles all over the pitch could prove decisive in determining the outcome of the match.
Here, we look at six such clashes. The team that sees the most cumulative victors in these areas might well be the one playing in the Euro 2012 final on Sunday.
Cristiano Ronaldo vs. Alvaro Arbeloa
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Teammates for Real Madrid, these two will be the biggest of enemies on Wednesday.
Alvaro Arbeloa is as solid as they come at defence, but Cristiano Ronaldo is one of the world's most effective attackers.
It's fair to say that, with the roaming tendencies of the Portuguese captain, they will only fleetingly come into contact. Perhaps they'll meet on the counterattack for Portugal, or on the relatively rare occurrences when Ronaldo keeps the team's width.
Nonetheless, the 94-cap attacker has great delivery and will be looking for his midfield teammates to be breaking into the box. If Ronaldo does not score himself, it is a fair bet that he will be involved in the build-up to Portugal's most dangerous attacks.
Arbeloa will need to limit Ronaldo's influence wherever possible to prevent this.
Miguel Veloso vs. Xavi
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Though it was Xabi Alonso who got forward to score against France early on, Xavi is the one pulling the strings at midfield for Spain and looking to play to his more advanced teammates.
Miguel Veloso, Portugal's primary holding midfielder in their usual starting lineup, will be charged with keeping as close to Xavi as possible to prevent him from producing his best work and dictating the flow of the game.
Veloso will also need to be far more accurate and quick with his passing than he was in the first half against the Czech Republic, where he misplaced a quarter of his passes.
Joao Moutinho vs. Sergio Busquets
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Cristiano Ronaldo might get the last touch, but make no mistake about it, Joao Moutinho is the man who makes Portugal tick.
The Portuguese midfielder sprays passes right, left and centre, and has a gift for late surges into the penalty area, often finding an effective pass or cross at short distances.
What Veloso will have to do for Portugal, Sergio Busquets will be charged with doing for Spain—namely, stopping the man who starts their opponent's attacks.
One curious factor to watch in this matchup will be who goes to the ground most often and most easily.
Pepe vs. Fernando Torres
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It's not certain whether he will start the game on the pitch or on the bench, but either way, Fernando Torres will likely be involved for Spain at some point.
With Cesc Fabregas starting the first and fourth games for Spain and Torres starting the other two in Euro 2012, Vicente del Bosque could certainly go either way.
Whenever he plays though, Torres will stretch the Portuguese defence whenever possible, attacking channels and running beyond central defenders Bruno Alves and Pepe if he can.
The more aggressive and faster of the duo, Pepe will have to take responsibility for keeping the two-goal striker quiet once more. He will also try to latch on to Torres for set pieces at both ends of the pitch.
Fabio Coentrao vs. David Silva
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One of Portugal's biggest threats on the counterattack will be the pace and energy of full-back Fabio Coentrao.
The Real Madrid defender will certainly offer width in the build-up, but he is also capable of coming inside and getting into good shooting positions.
David Silva, Spain's right-side forward, will perhaps have to do more defending than he is used to. Will he be able to cope and offer Alvaro Arbeloa the protection he needs, especially with Ronaldo and Coentrao working in tandem?
At the other end of the pitch, Coentrao has improved on his defensive duties. However, he still has a tendency to stand off too much or dive in too quickly, and Silva could easily find a space to squeeze over a pass or cross if he does either.
Joao Pereira vs. Andres Iniesta
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The star of Euro 2012 so far, Andres Iniesta has run the show for Spain at times.
Iniesta will come short, stay wide, return one-touch passes, run with the ball or switch play completely. He is at the top of his game and will probably cause a moment of real danger for Portugal.
How Joao Pereira deals with him could be truly pivotal in determining whether or not Portugal stay in the match long enough to mount some serious threats of their own.
If Pereira stands off, gives Iniesta time and space or indeed loses him completely after a possession turnover, the Barcelona midfielder has the skill to win the game in an instant.