The first semi-final at Euro 2012 pits the reigning European and World champions, Spain, against archrivals Portugal (Match Preview). Cristiano Ronaldo has lit up the competition recently, with the rest of his team largely relying on his talents, while Spain have made it this far without being consistently brilliant, as we have come to expect of them.
With the match fast approaching, here we take a closer look at how the game might pan out, and where exactly it could be won and lost.
Spain have unsurprisingly dominated possession in each of their Euro 2012 games so far, with the 59% they managed against France in the last round their lowest in a game yet – their average of 67.5% is by some way the best at the tournament. They have also completed 89.6% of the passes – also better than any other team, but while these stats are merely expected of the Spaniards, Portugal’s are more surprising.
Only Czech Republic, Croatia, Greece and Ireland have completed a lower proportion of their passes than the Portuguese’s (78.5%), while only 5 teams have had less possession than them (45.5%). Paulo Bento has his side playing a counter-attacking style that has seen them accrue 6 attempts from breakaway attacks – a tally 2 better than Russia and at least 4 more than every other side at the tournament. They are also one of only 3 teams, along with Germany and the Czech Republic, to have scored a counter-attacking goal at Euro 2012, with the likes of Nani and Ronaldo often leading such breaks.
When they do get forward, Portugal have regularly attacked from wide positions, and have attempted significantly more crosses than any other team at the Euros, with 107, while Italy have put in the second most, with 84. Their cross success rate is just 19% so far, which is the third worst of all teams in the tournament, though they have scored 3 of their 6 goals as a result of crosses into the box.
Spain, meanwhile, have attempted 66 through balls in their four games at Euro 2012, which is almost three times as many as the team to have played the second most (Russia, with 23). 20 of Spain’s through balls have found their target, with 3 of those eventually leading to goals.
These sides are likely to continue in this vein, with Spain controlling the play and probing for the opening in Portugal’s defence to slip one of their many attacking players in. Portugal, on the other hand, will be happy to sit back, with dangerman Ronaldo waiting in the wings for a clearance to pounce on, from which to launch an attack. Chances may be few and far between though, as the two sides have allowed their opponents the fewest shots on goal per game, with Spain conceding just 7 shots per game and Portugal 9.3.
Much of Spain’s focus when they are defending will naturally be on Cristiano Ronaldo, who, although officially starting from the left hand side of the front three, will roam the pitch in order to find space to exploit. However, many consider Spain’s right-back Alvaro Arbeloa to be a weak point in an otherwise strong team so Ronaldo may look to stick to the touchline and try to attack his Real Madrid teammate.
Ronaldo has had 30 shots on goal at the Euros, at least 11 more than any other player, though he has only amassed 3 goals as a result, which 3 other players have matched. Spain have only blocked 5 shots at the Euros so far, but Arbeloa can account for 2 of those. Furthermore, while Cristiano Ronaldo has dribbled past an opponent just 4 times, Arbeloa has been dribbled past just the once, whilst also making 10 tackles. It seems from these stats that Arbeloa may not be the position to target for Ronaldo, and he could in fact deal with the world’s second best player in an efficient and effective way.
However, it is also worth noting the opponents that Arbeloa has so far come up against, with Franck Ribery the only notable one of those players, and he had a poor game against the Spanish, mustering only one key pass and 2 successful dribbles all game. However, he was often outnumbered when in attack and with little to help him out, Spain opted to double up on him.
That will probably be Spain’s tactic to deal with Ronaldo as well, so the Portugal winger may have to vary his game, and Fabio Coentrao will look to get forward to support him as usual. Of course, Ronaldo is used to teams focussing on stopping him and will continue to threaten nonetheless.