Portugal is set to face reigning champions Spain in the semifinals of the 2012 European championship. The neighbouring countries are set to clash in a match where Cristiano Ronaldo and teammates will have to bring their best game to the field against a group that has dominated the international stage over the past five years. Here are the storylines to follow ahead of the matchup on Wednesday.
1. The Spaniards are on a path to make history and retain the European championship, a feat that would make Spain the first country to capture three consecutive major international tournaments. But Vicente del Bosque’s team is two very difficult games away from such a record, with Ronaldo’s Portugal their first obstacle.
2. Can Portugal look past the stats? The international head-to-head matchup favours La Roja (16-12-6), with Spain eliminating Portugal from the 2010 World Cup with a 1-0 win. Later that year Portugal shocked its Iberian rival with a 4-0 victory in a friendly match. Both squads have improved and look better than two years ago, preserving their midfield core.
3. It’s Ronaldo’s time. The Portuguese captain, coming off his best season with La Liga champion Real Madrid, is hungry for title success. The 27-year-old forward has scored three goals in the last two games and is ready to escape from the shadow of Argentine counterpart Lionel Messi.
4. Madrid teammates collide. The semifinal match will see a total of eight Real Madrid players, including the two nation’s captains. Iker Casillas (C), Sergio Ramos, Alvaro Arbeloa, Raul Albiol and Xabi Alonso will represent Real Madrid on the Spanish side, while Fabio Coentrao, Pepe and Ronaldo are the Los Blancos players on the Portuguese squad.
5. Striker or false striker? Spain has been alternating its lineup throughout the tournament, using forward Fernando Torres in the group-stage games against Ireland and Croatia. Del Bosque decided to go without a striker versus Italy in the opening game and France in quarter-finals. The system’s constant changes have sparked controversy and criticism around the sports world. Del Bosque’s decision on Wednesday might dictate the course of the game, as well as his future with the Spanish national team.