Warsaw: Playing against defending champion Spain at Euro 2012 has got even harder. Portugal, at least, has had an extra 48 hours to try and figure out a way of countering Spain`s different systems of play.
Spain has alternated between a traditional attack led by striker Fernando Torres and a six-man midfield fronted by playmaker Cesc Fabregas, with the latter picked to start Saturday`s 2-0 quarterfinal victory over France.
Spain returns to the Donbass Arena to play its Iberian neighbours in the European Championship semifinal, where the six-man midfield could well return. Coach Vicente del Bosque has tended to use the system against tougher opponents, deploying it against 2006 world champion Italy in a 1-1 draw in their Group C opener.
Spain beat Portugal 1-0 en route to its World Cup win two years ago, and the Portuguese will already have been seeking ways to disrupt Spain`s game.
Though lacking sparkle, Spain`s tactics have effectively stifled its opponents and helped maintain the team`s remarkable defensive record.
Since coming through the group stage of Euro 2008, Spain has not conceded a goal in the knockout rounds of a major tournament, a run of eight games.
For the Portuguese, having an extra two days to recover from their quarterfinals win over the Czech Republic on Thursday could be a real bonus.
"We were very tired by the end of the game and that`s normal," Del Bosque said. "We need to recover well and this 48 hours extra they have is a little bit of a handicap (for us)."
Del Bosque said the change in weather had also fatigued his team, which will be training in the cooler climates of Gdansk in northern Poland before again returning to the heat and humidity of eastern Ukraine.
Physical trainer Javier Minano said Portugal`s extra time off will give them "a bit of an advantage, but looking at the quarterfinal we had against France, we had an extra day of rest compared to them. So we can`t use it as an excuse."
Spain`s victory kept alive the possibility of a Spain-Germany final, something France coach Laurent Blanc sees as the most probable ending to the tournament. The Germans will face either Italy in the other semifinal.
"To this point of the Euro there are two teams that have showed they are strongest, that they are the real favorites and that`s Germany and Spain. That`s not so surprising," Blanc said.
"Spain is very difficult to beat. You have to be so efficient against Spain, with so little of the ball. It`s very difficult for all teams, but Germany is showing it can maybe do better."
Spain beat the Germans 1-0 in the World Cup semifinals, having also beaten them by the same scoreline in the final of Euro 2008, thanks to a goal from Torres. The Chelsea striker has failed to find his best form for the national team since then and, although he has scored two goals in the tournament, a third start seems unlikely.
With all opponents changing tactics for Spain, Portugal should be no different. But that doesn`t worry the favourites.
"We know Portugal perfectly, it`s going to be a tough game since it`s one step from the final where we want to be," said Xabi Alonso, who plays with Portugal`s Cristiano Ronaldo, Pepe and Fabio Coentrao at Real Madrid.
"Most of the times we know the opponents may try a few adjustments, so it`s not news to us," Alonso said. "We just keep passing until we find the best option."
Some teams quake before Spain. Not Portugal.
Spain swept into the semifinals of the European Championship unbeaten, the only blemish on the defending champions` record being an opening 1-1 draw with Italy. Coach Vicente del Bosque has varied his tactics, fielding either a six-man midfield or a lone striker, in part as a way to trip up opponents.
That has forced some teams, most recently France in its 2-0 quarterfinal loss to Spain, to try to adjust their tactics.
But the Portuguese are having none of it, saying the key to winning thr semifinal against Spain is simple: Be themselves.
"We have to keep united as we`ve been so far, and we have to be ourselves and not change the way we play just because we`re going to face the reigning world and European champions," defender Joao Pereira said.
"When we have to take control of the game we will, and when we have to press we`re going to press. We`re going to play our game and try to attack, with all the respect we have for Spain."
That attack will be led by Cristiano Ronaldo, who is back on form after failing to score in Portugal`s first two matches at the tournament. The Real Madrid star has found his scoring touch since, netting twice against the Netherlands and one more against the Czech Republic to put Portugal into the semifinals.
In Poland and Ukraine, Ronaldo has finally put in the performances – and goals - for his national side that have made him one of the world`s top club players for years.
That comes after the Portugal captain managed just one goal in each of the last three major tournaments he`s played in - the 2006 and 2010 World Cups and the 2008 European Championship.
His performances at Euro 2012 have gone a long way toward shoring up his reputation with the national team, and he could probably silence the critics for good if he leads Portugal to victory over Spain.
It would be extra sweet for Ronaldo, one of the game`s top competitors, to eliminate Spain, where five of his Real Madrid teammates play, including Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos and Xabi Alonso.
BDST: 1948 HRS, June 26, 2012
Chanchal Ghosh, Newsroom Editor
All rights reserved. Sale, redistribution or reproduction of information/photos/illustrations/video/audio contents on this website in any form without prior permission from banglanews24.com are strictly prohibited and liable to legal action.