Playing against defending champions Spain at Euro 2012 has got even harder. Portugal, at least, have had an extra 48 hours to try to figure out a way of countering Spain’s different systems of play.
Spain have alternated between a traditional attack led by striker Fernando Torres and a six-man midfield fronted by playmaker Cesc Fabregas, with the latter picked to start Saturday’s 2-0 quarter-final victory over France.
Spain return to the Donbass Arena to play their Iberian neighbours in Wednesday’s European Championship semifinal, where the six-man midfield could well return. Coach Vicente del Bosque has tended to use the system against tougher opponents, deploying it against 2006 world champions Italy in a 1-1 draw in their Group C opener.
Spain beat Portugal 1-0 en route to their World Cup win two years ago, and the Portuguese will already have been seeking ways to disrupt Spain’s game. Though lacking sparkle, Spain’s tactics have effectively stifled their opponents and helped maintain the team’s remarkable defensive record.
Since coming through the group stage of Euro 2008, Spain have not conceded a goal in the knockout rounds of a major tournament, a run of eight games.
For the Portuguese, having an extra two days to recover from their quarter-finals win over the Czech Republic last Thursday could be a real bonus.
“We were very tired by the end of the game and that’s normal,” Del Bosque said. “We need to recover well and this 48 hours extra they have is a little bit of a handicap (for us).”
Del Bosque said the change in weather had also fatigued his team, which will be training in the cooler climates of Gdansk in northern Poland before again returning to the heat and humidity of eastern Ukraine tomorrow.
Spain’s victory kept alive the possibility of a Spain-Germany final, something France coach Laurent Blanc sees as the most probable ending to the tournament. The Germans will face either Italy or England in Thursday’s semi-final.
“There are two teams that have showed they are strongest, that they are the real favourites and that’s Germany and Spain. That’s not so surprising,” Blanc said.