Spain v. Portugal: 10 reasons why this match will be unpredictable

Posted on June 29, 2010

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Why Spain will beat Portugal –

1) David Villa And Fernando Torres

Portugal have some very adept attackers, none more so than Cristiano Ronaldo. But none fit the pure striker mould quite like Spain’s David Villa and Fernando Torres. Spanish coach Vicente Del Bosque went through most of the qualifying stage matches having fielded just one striker, but in light of Spain’s inability to find the back of the net, has opted for partnering the two front men.

With preliminary reports revealing that Del Bosque plans to use the same starting XI that he employed against Chile, it seems a near certainty that the two lethal strikers will have many opportunities to test the Portuguese keeper. Over the course of the group stage, both Villa and Torres have been wasteful in front of goal, with the latter having blasted over the bar with more frequency than he has shot on target. But if Spain are to win, it will be because Villa and Torres took their opportunities and capitalised on them.

2) Midfield Passing And Possession

With arguably the best midfield in the world, Spain are masters at dictating the pace of a match. With orchestrators of the likes of Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta, Xabi Alonso and Sergi Busquets in the midfield, Spain feature intricate passing, disciplined triangulation, dazzling technique and creativity and brilliant build-up play.

As former Spain coach Luis Aragones so succinctly put it: “If Portugal take the ball from us, they will win.” Spain’s chances of victory hinge upon the midfield’s ability to retain the ball and be constructive with it. If Spain can manage to put together the sublime passing that has become the ensign of Spanish football over the past two years, they will effectively make Portugal a one-dimensional team that can only bite back on the counter-attack. So long as centre-backs Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique keep a close watch on Cristiano Ronaldo on the break, Spain will have a good chance of progressing to the quarter-finals.

3) Squad Depth

With the possible exception of Argentina, Spain have the deepest and most talented 23-man squad at the World Cup. Only in team like La Roja would players like Cesc Fabregas, David Silva, Jesus Navas and many others be relegated to bench spots rather than starting roles. This extraordinary talent gives Vicente Del Bosque the versatility to make a number of adjustments to his team as the match progresses.

While Fabregas does not look set to take on a starting role against Portugal, we have already seen how the young Arsenal captain breathes life into his side with his pinpoint-accurate passing and midfield link-up play. Should Jesus Navas be brought on in the second half, the winger could cause makeshift left-back Fabio Coentrao to work twice has hard in defence. With players like Pedro Rodriguez, Javi Martinez, Alvaro Arbeloa and Fernando Llorente on hand to contribute, Spain far supersede Portugal in terms of squad depth and this plays very much to La Furia Roja’s advantage, especially in the case that the match heads into extra time.

4) Euro 2008 Experience

Winning their first trophy in 44 years with the European championship in 2008, Spain have not looked back, becoming much more than a group of national players, but instead becoming a strong, cohesive team in which every player fulfils an integral role and is comfortable. Spain beat top international sides on their road to European glory and continued to do so thereafter in their qualifying matches and international friendlies.

Thus far in the tournament, La Roja have slipped a bit in quality, not looking as crisp as they have over the past two years. But with the core of the Euro 2008 squad still intact (with the lamentable exception of Marcos Senna), the players know what is at stake and, with the luxury of experience, have the mental fortitude to face it. With some luck, this experience will play to Spain’s favour.

5) Destiny

Since Iker Casillas pulled off two incredible penalty kick saves against Italy in the Euro 2008 quarter-finals, there has been an air of destiny surrounding La Furia Roja. Previously reputed for dependable disappointment, Spain have risen from the ashes to now become an international footballing powerhouse.

The team has already established its European supremacy and after a 100% record in qualifying/international friendlies against quality opponents (including Argentina, England and France to name a few), Spaniards across the whole country (even those who may not consider themselves Spaniards before they do Catalans, Basques, etc.) have now banded together with a new-found belief in their national team. And believing you can win can go a long way towards actually achieving that result.

– Why Portugal Will Beat Spain

1. Fresh as daisies

How many times have we heard national team coaches lament the fact that their star players failed to perform at the world’s biggest football tournament because of exhaustion after a long hard season? A whole host of Portugal’s top names will not suffer from this problem. Cristiano Ronaldo, Danny, Nani, Ricardo Carvalho, Deco and Pepe were all laid low for significant chunks of 2009/10, either due to injury, suspension or selection criteria, meaning there’s plenty of running in them those legs. There is no doubting the talent and big game experience of this half dozen, and being able to call upon extra energy levels unavailable to many rival players will prove a significant advantage.

2. Form guide

So Portugal drew 0-0 with Cape Verde. An embarrassing result, granted, but anyone who saw the lackadaisical attitude adopted by the players and then listened to Carlos Queiroz’s explanation that he had instructed his players not to over-exert themselves will realise nothing can be read into what was essentially a light training exercise. The fact is Portugal have not tasted defeat since November 2008, a run that has seen the Selecção clock up 10 victories and 4 draws. Most of those victories came in must-win games when the team knew the slightest slip-up would have cost them their place in South Africa, so they have proved they can get the results in pressure situations.

3. Watertight defence

During that 14-match unbeaten run, Portugal have conceded the grand total of 2 goals. Yes, that’s right. Just TWO goals have got past Eduardo in 1,260 minutes of football. The Thou Shalt Not Passtriumvirate comprising Ricardo Carvalho, Bruno Alves and Pepe have been ably backed up by something of a rarity in modern times in Portuguese football – a goalkeeper who inspires confidence in his defence, Eduardo.

4. Match-winners galore

Hence, few goals will be needed for Portugal to collect wins in South Africa. Just as well, given that finding the net has proved Portugal’s biggest difficulty since Carlos Queiroz took the reins. But fate has conspired to deliver Portugal’s considerable array of firepower at the peak of their abilities. Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani ended their club seasons in outstanding goalscoring form and both are perfectly capable of conjuring a goal out of nothing against the best of opposition. Zenit St Petersburg forward Danny has rediscovered the form that saw him destroy Manchester United in the 2008 European Super Cup, scoring goals and providing assists aplenty as the Russian season opened.

These are the players in form, but Deco has proved he can still mix it with the best, Liedson has one of the best strike rates in top-level football, and Bruno Alves and Pepe provide a potent threat in the air. With goals liable to come from so many areas of the field, Portugal will not fire blanks this World Cup.

5. It’s written in the stars

Mid-way through the qualification campaign Portugal’s hopes of making it to the World Cup appeared in tatters. The team had beaten only Malta and sat in fifth place in Group One, behind the likes of Albania, while Denmark, Hungary and Sweden seemed to be beyond reach. The next game was away in Albania. Just as a poor performance seemed to have put the final nail in Portugal’s World Cup coffin, Bruno Alves popped up to nod home a hopeful punt into the box and reignite the Selecção’s hopes.

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Posted in: Football