Two years ago, on this day, Spain beat Germany to break their major tournament jinx and lift the European Championship trophy. Today, they can continue on that tradition and take a very significant step towards breaking their World Cup hex by beating neighbours Portugal. The two teams have met 32 times in international football. Portugal have won just five matches, Spain 15 and there have been 12 draws. However, Spain have only beaten Portugal once in ten matches since 1958 and the last time the two teams met Portugal won 1-0, knocking Spain out of the 2004 Euro in the group stages.
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Spain entered the World Cup as favourites for the first time. They have always had a talented, entertaining team but since they always underachieved at major tournaments, no one really ever thought of them as favourites. All that changed however,with their 2008 win at the European Championships and now Spain have to live with the pressure of expectation every time they get on the pitch. It is probably this pressure to perform which saw Spain unable to score against Switzerland and also concede a very sloppy goal which made their last game in the group stages a must-win game. The European champions, however, have gotten over that shock dealt to them by the Swiss and have looked good against Honduras and Chile but that defeat showed other teams how to beat Spain.
Spain manager, Vincente Del Bosque will most likely play a 4-2-3-1 formation with Iker Casillas in goal. Sergio Ramos, Gerrard Pique, Carles Puyol, Joan Capdevilla will form Spain’s back four. Xabi Alonso who sprained his ankle during Spain’s 2-1 win over Chile, will most likely be replaced by Xavi Martinez who will play alongside Sergio Busquets in defensive mid-field. Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez and David Villa will make up Spain’s attacking midfield and support Fernando Torres in front.
Portugal have great wingers who pose a massive threat to Spain on the counter and Sergio Ramos and Joan Capdevilla will have to be extra sharp today.
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Portugal have Cristiano Ronaldo. That is all that most people seem to relate with Portugal. Cristiano is definitely one of those players that can change the complexion of any game and since Cristiano hasn’t been extremely effective for his national side, many people wrote off Portugal’s chances. However, Portugal have proved that although they may not play the prettiest of football at times, they have found a way of staying in the competition and getting results. They managed a very good albeit dull draw against Ivory Coast and then held Brazil. Anyone who can keep Brazil from scoring is dangerous in their own way. Portugal have transformed themselves in to a very good defensive side. They are yet to concede a goal in the World Cup and have kept 22 clean sheets in their last 26 matches. Furthermore, they have gone 19 games unbeaten under coach Carlos Queiroz. Portugal’s only weakness it seems is their inability to score goals and that they lack an out and out striker. However, they do have incredibly talented wingers in Cristiano Ronaldo and Simao Sabrosa who can catch any team on the counter. So even though, it seems impossible for any team to keep the very talented Spanish squad from scoring, Portugal just might. Also, if Cristiano Ronaldo can tame the Jabulani, Portugal would have a great advantage from set pieces especially since Iker Casillas and Spain are not the best, at defending set-pieces.
Portugal manager, Carlos Queiroz will most likely play a 4-3-3 formation with Eduardo in goal. Paulo Ferreira, Bruno Alves, Ricardo Carvalho, Fabio Coentrao will form ‘the great wall of Portugal’. Although Deco has recovered from the hip injury that forced him to miss Portugal’s final Group G game against Brazil, he is unlikely to be in the starting line-up as Tiago has done very well so far. Another player sure to miss out is the injured midfielder Danny. Pepe will most likely retain his position in Portugal’s midfield alongside Tiago and Raul Meireles and Portugal’s attack will be lead by Simao Sabrosa and Cristiano Ronaldo playing on the wing on either side of Liedson.
Although, Spain have to be the favourites going in to this match considering the quality they have in their team, Portugal cannot be counted out especially since they have a very good defence and have players that can be lethal on counter-attacks. The match bound to be a very close one and if it goes to extra time, then Portugal will win.
“Portugal are going to be a very tough side. I take no satisfaction from the fact we’re up against Portugal instead of Brazil. They are both great national teams.”- Vincente Del Bosque, Spain manager
“We want to win this game from the very first minute.” – Carlos Queiroz, Portugal manager
Stars to Watch Out For
Spain: David Villa, Andres Iniesta,Xavi Hernandez, Fernando Torres
Portugal: Cristiano Ronaldo, Raul Meireles, Tiago, Simão Sabrosa
David Villa has scored six goals in six starts at the World Cup and is now the all-time top scorer for Spain at the tournament.
Portugal have failed to score in their last two World Cup knockout matches – 0-0 (aet) against England in the quarter-final and a 1-0 defeat to France in the semi-final in 2006.
Spain have kept clean sheets in 26% of their World Cup games (nine out of 34) since the start of the 1982 tournament
Portugal have conceded just one goal in their last 12 internationals.
Spain were the first team since Hungary in 1986 not to collect a single card in the group stages of a World Cup tournament
If Portugal avoid defeat in this match they will set a new national team record of 20 games unbeaten in all competitions