Monday, June 25, 2012

When Cristiano Ronaldo isn't Portugal's main man

The European Football Championships enter their final week. Fittingly, the confederation's four best teams will contest the final matches of the tournament.

A joyfulness has been incorporated into the Teutonic predisposition for precision, while Spain have eschewed the previously successful “death by a thousand cuts” for “death by a thousand paper cuts”. Italy's on-paper mismatch of talent makes them more interesting than at any time since their 2006 World Cup victory and Portugal have created working weaponry from a formerly blunt object.

The most anticipated final matchup would undoubtedly be a rematch of the Euro 2008 final where Spain defeated the Germans to claim their first major tournament win since 1964.

If Spain's midfield can be thought of as a hydra, Portugal are well placed to complete the Herculean labour of subduing the many heads of la Furia Roja. In fact, the Selecção are such popular underdogs that they are in danger of losing that unfavoured status: it's becoming increasingly apparent that their strengths match well against Spanish weaknesses.

Spain's overriding failing this tournament has been an almost negligent attitude towards their end product. With Fernando Llorente out of favour, Roberto Soldado missing and Fernando Torres missing under completely different circumstances, their goals have, as ever, been derived predominantly from the midfield. The centre of the park will be as congested as in any match with the likes of Xabi Alonso, Xavi and Busquets lined up against the territorial Raul Meireles

The best method of countering possession dominance combined with such flagrant reluctance to shoot is with stout central defenders – like Pepe and Bruno Alves – and crucially, midfielders willing and able to carry the ball into positions which create the best springboard for quick and tricksy forwards such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani to exploit.

Portugal have improved in each of their matches, especially in the quality of the link play between defence and attack. A backline of Bruno Alves and Pepe should field no questions of resilience, the transition forward has come chiefly from unheralded sources: Joao Moutinho and Miguel Veloso. Moutinho certainly stood up to the challenge and while Ronaldo was the spearhead, thrusts were generated behind him and chiefly via Moutinho's creation.

Most things will have to fall to their favour for Portugal to win. They'll need Ronaldo at his direct best, Meireles to perform his role, Moutinho to advance the ball well and Good Nani rather than Evil Nani. But given their pedigree and a pragmatic manager in Paulo BentoPortugal could prevent the final of Euro 2012 being the typical sequel which fails to live up to advanced billing.

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