This is a grudge match between Iberian Peninsula neighbors, and with a berth in the Euro 2012 finals on the line stakes couldn’t be higher. Portugal is looking to make a major international breakthrough while Cristiano Ronaldo is still in his prime, while Spain is looking to continue their ridiculous string of international success that started four years ago in this tournament.
The game will be played on Wednesday, June 27, at 2:45 p.m. ET in Donetsk, Ukraine. Spain just won their quarterfinal over France in the same stadium, so they should have the edge in terms of comfort with their surroundings. Of course, in that semifinal win the stadium was new to Spain while France had played there twice, so you don’t need to attach too much significance to Spain’s advantage.
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Not surprisingly the oddsmakers at Bovada are giving Spain a big edge here. They are at -115 on the moneyline, while the draw is at +250 and Portugal sits at +320. The point spread is at ‘pick’, with Spain heavily favored at -270 compared to +200 for Portugal. The total is set at 2, with the ‘over’ favored at -125 compared to -105 on the ‘under’.
How they got here
In a nutshell both teams got here by avoiding any mistakes and doing what they were supposed to do in the quarterfinals. Both faced opponents that they could beat handily if they stuck to their game plan, and both teams won without allowing opponents onto the scoreboard. Neither team was perfect, but ultimately they were successful.
Portugal opened up quarterfinal action by playing Czech Republic. It was a strange game. The Czechs were massively outclassed, and it seemed obvious from the start that they were going to lose. They were incredibly stubborn defensively, though, and it seemed like they may just hang on into extra time before their seemingly inevitable loss. They covered Ronaldo like a glove everywhere he went, but he still found a way to escape and score the winner in the 79th minute. The Portuguese megastar is playing by far his best international tournament, and now it is a dogfight between him and Mario Gomez for top goal scorer honors in the tournament. Each man currently has three. While the game was tighter than Portugal would have liked they allowed essentially no real chances for the Czechs and looked more than sound defensively.
At the 2006 World Cup France was the last team to eliminate Spain from a major international tournament. It wasn’t meant to happen again here. France made a point before the game to say that the one thing they couldn’t afford was to fall behind early. Spain scored 19 minutes in, though, and the French confidence seemed to wane. Spain is a particularly dangerous team when it plays with a lead, and though it was just a one-goal game until a second goal in extra time Spain was clearly in charge most of the way after its opening tally. Most impressive about the performance, though, was that as much as Spain seemed to be in control they also appeared to be playing at half speed. This is a team that can be much better than they have been so far, and they know it.
For Portugal the obvious answer would be that it has arguably the best player on the planet and he is playing great. That’s too easy, though. The bigger asset is that the Portuguese have had two more days to prepare for the game than Spain. They’ll be more rested, and they have had more time to strategize and prepare. They didn’t technically know who their opponent would be, but they could have been fairly confident that it would be Spain. Portugal needs to find a way to overcome their deficiencies here, and that time could be the key to it.
For Spain their asset is just plain experience. They have been in semifinals regularly, and lately they just keep winning them. They will feel no pressure, and they know that they have an extra gear (or three) in reserve to call on. It is unlikely that anything that happens in this game will completely surprise them, so they should have an edge in composure to go with their talent edge.
While Spain has talent and skill in reserve there is always the risk that it will take its success for granted at some point. The Spaniards know they are better than Portugal, they have had a showdown with Germany circled on their calendar for months, and it has been a long, long time since they have faced any major adversity in international play. They are clearly the better team, but Portugal is dangerous enough that Spain can’t take anything for granted or they could be in real trouble.
For Portugal their biggest issue is just with the depth of the Spaniards. Playing Spain is like wrestling an octopus — just when you think you have them contained they find another way to attack you. At the top-end the two teams are a good match, but Spain is much deeper, faster, and craftier. If Portugal hasn’t found a way to deal with that then all they can do is rely on luck, and that’s not a very good place to be in a spot like this.
Predictions and betting picks
I respect Portugal and have seen more from them by far in this tournament than I expected to. I just don’t think they have enough bullets in the chamber. It’s all up to Spain — if they really still have the burning desire to win then they will do so. At this kind of moneyline I think that there is, surprisingly, still some value in them.
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