The Portuguese men's national soccer team is riding high after advancing to the semifinal round of UEFA Euro 2012. But against the defending champions from Spain, Portugal is going to have to play an absolutely mistake-free match if they're going to advance to the final.
Sporting Clube de Portugal has gained a great deal of momentum after an opening-round loss to Germany, rattling off consecutive victories over Denmark, Netherlands and the Czech Republic to reach the semis. However, Portugal's reward for facing their neighbors isn't much of a reward at all considering what a buzzsaw the Spanish national team has been in recent years.
First off, the Portuguese will be waging a battle against recent history. According to The Hard Tackle, not only have the Spanish national team not lost a match in the knockout stages of either the World or Euro Cups, but over those eight matches, the Selección de fútbol de España has yet to allow a single goal. This includes a match with Portugal at the 2010 World Cup—a match the Spanish won 1-0.
Also, no team in international competition today is as absolutely relentless as the Spainiards, as evidenced by the team's 2-0 dismantling of the French in the quarterfinals.
The Spanish trio of Sergio Busquets, Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta, who all play club soccer together for La Liga powerhouse Barcelona, constantly force the action, causing other teams to abandon their game plans while hanging on for dear life.
In all honesty, that's about all that Portugal can do: hang on. Defenders such as Fábio Coentrão, Bruno Alves, Pepe and João Pereira will have to play the match of their lives. Goaltender Rui Patrício will also need to be absolutely unflappable in the net, standing on his head if need be to stop any shots that get past the Portuguese defense.
And make no mistake, shots will get through.
Even if Portugal plays nearly flawless soccer, it will likely take a mistake by Spain to open the door for Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal to pull the upset—if only because three quarters of the match will probably be spent on the Portuguese end of the pitch.
With that said, there's at least a glimmer of hope for Portugal against the Spanish. The last time the two teams met, in a November, 2010 friendly, the Portuguese romped to a 4-0 win.
Portuguese striker Hugo Almeida, who will start against Spain in place of the injured Hélder Postiga, was on the pitch for that match. The 28-year-old told UEFA.com that he believes his countrymen can rise to the occasion again.
"I'm sure it will be difficult against these players, but we'll try our best to score and I'm very confident," added Almeida. "It would be a great dream [to go through] and I'd be very proud."
Hey, look at it this way. No one thought that English had a snowball's chance against the Spanish Armada at the Battle of Gravelines in 1588...Look how that turned out.
Should Portugal down Spain on Wednesday, then this upset might even be bigger.