Ronaldo can power Portugal into final
27 Jun, Euro 2012 (semi-final): Portugal v Spain (Donetsk, 7.45 UK)
Wherever I look for a clue to the likely outcome of this game, I see it billed as “the most exciting game so far”. Well, I’m not convinced, having witnessed the ponderous non-event that was Spain v France.
And taking into account that, apart from their 4-0 thrashing of Ireland, Spain haven’t scored more than one goal in the opening 90 minutes in their previous matches, I am inclined to bet on another boring master class in keep-ball from the Spanish. The main man they have to keep the ball from is, of course, Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo.
When he played for Manchester United, I could never understand the amount of scorn he provoked. There is simply no better sight in football than a forward running headlong toward the opposition goal with the ball at his feet – even if it’s towards your team’s goal.
At times, I thought it shameful that any fan could jeer his almost limitless ability; this is what we pay to watch. Every new generation of fans should be so lucky to be around to witness a Cruyff, Charlton, Greaves, Maradona, etc. In the way that music underscores and measures our lives so does art in the shape of such masters.
Ronaldo perhaps sums up exactly why he is held in such scorn with his astute riposte: “Of course they hate me. I’m rich, good looking and the best footballer in the world.” Clever, too.
Much has been made of Spain’s defensive abilities and their capability for nicking late goals but Portugal coach Paulo Bento will be aware that this isn’t the unassailable Spanish side of the last World Cup. Relying on Cesc Fabrigas or Fernando Torres to score, while the rest of the team barely leave the halfway line, may see Spain surprisingly emulate England’s farewell appearance.
Portugal’s likely game plan will see the two flying full backs, Fabio Coentrao and Joao Pereira, attack along the sides with a further option available from Miguel Veloso, providing those telling passes from defence to find Ronaldo and Hugo Almeida. Spain will emulate Barcelona with the midfield men, holding and passing like a tireless metronome, as they seek to mesmerise Portugal into a mistake.
We will be dazzled by the quick accurate passing of Xabi Alonso, Xavi and Andres Iniesta and, conversely, are just as likely to be bored witless by a cagey display from two teams showing far too much respect for each other. I don’t expect much blood and thunder but, with this much talent on the pitch, I am hopeful that the likely ponderous display will be punctuated by at least one goal worthy of the hype.
However, while it’s easy to see an early goal from either side effectively killing the game, it is somewhat harder to predict which side are the most likely to take the lead. I’ll stick my neck out for the best reason: a couple of months ago, I was moved to tears of boredom while watching Barcelona fail to break down Chelsea in the Champions League semi-finals.
For that reason – and for the sake of football – I predict a slender win for Portugal.
Prediction: Portugal 1, Spain 0