DONETSK, Ukraine – For Spain, it’s more about stopping one man, while for Portugal, it will be about containing a whole team when the two meet in today’s European Championship semifinals.
While Cristiano Ronaldo holds the keys to Portugal’s chances of taking a step closer to a first major trophy, Spain’s charge toward an unprecedented third straight tournament title is anchored in selfless teamwork.
Spain simply does not need a Ronaldo; Portugal desperately does.
After a difficult start to the tournament, Ronaldo has stepped up when it matters, scoring three goals in the last two games to move Portugal closer to its first final since Euro 2004, where it lost on home soil to outsider Greece.
This time, Portugal will be very much the outsider at Donbass Arena.
“We have to be ourselves and not change the way we play just because we’re going to face the reigning World (Cup) and European champion,” Portugal defender Joao Pereira said. “We’re going to play our own game.”
That is more than France did in Saturday’s quarterfinal, when it tried to stifle Spain at the expense of its own ambition and meekly lost, 2-0.
Meek is not a word often associated with Ronaldo, whose 86 league goals in the past two seasons with Real Madrid make him the only player who comes close to rivaling Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi.
Although Portugal has another skillful player in winger Nani, the team is under no illusions how to play: with fast breaks and by getting the ball up to Ronaldo as quickly as possible.
“Our weapons are not a secret,” midfielder Custodio said. “Will this be Portugal’s year? I hope so.”
Portugal beat Spain 4-0 in a friendly match in November 2010 – Spain’s heaviest defeat since winning the World Cup.
But only victory today will heal the wounds from Portugal’s ill-tempered 1-0 loss to Spain in the second round of the World Cup two years ago, in which Spain shackled Ronaldo.