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Tuesday’s final Round of 16 match at the World Cup is a doozy as neighbors Spain and Portugal, the No. 2 and No. 3 teams in the world rankings, meet for a spot in the quarterfinals. People are calling this the “Iberian Derby.”
The Spaniards suffered one of the biggest upsets of this World Cup with an opening 1-0 loss to the Swiss. But Spain bounced back nicely – unlike fellow European giants Italy and France – by beating Honduras 2-0 and Chile 2-1 to win Group H as was expected for Spain’s third straight group victory at the World Cup.
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David Villa has been fantastic for Spain in this tournament. The leading scorer at Euro 2008 has three goals so far (tied for the tournament lead through the group stage), including one that simply has to be seen against Chile from more than 40 yards out. Villa also assisted on Spain’s second goal. The 28-year-old has scored 41 times for Spain in 61 appearances and is a lock to break the national scoring record of 44 in 102 matches held by Raul.
There are two concerns for Spain for this match. One is that Fernando Torres hasn’t looked good at this World Cup after only recently returning from knee surgery (he didn’t start the opener). He was replaced in the 55th minute against Chile by midfielder Cesc Fabregas. Coach Vicente del Bosque said Torres "has a small muscle worry, nothing to do with his previous injury.”
The second worry is that midfielder Xavi Alonso might not be recovered from a sprained ankle for this match. A late tackle from Chile defender Waldo Ponce caught him and Javi Martinez replaced him soon after. Alonso is currently doubtful.
Portugal was the runner-up in Group G behind Brazil but wasn’t beaten in the group stage, having tied the Ivory Coast and slamming North Korea 7-0 before finishing group play with a 0-0 tie with Brazil. In that match, Portuguese striker Danny injured his thigh when he was chasing a ball in the Brazil penalty box moments and collided with keeper Julio Cesar and had to be helped off the pitch. Danny is expected to miss this game. However, midfielder Deco has returned to full training and is expected back after he missed the past two matches.
Of course Portugal’s star is Cristiano Ronaldo, who plays with Spain internationals Iker Casillas, Alonso, Sergio Ramos, Raul Albiol and Alvaro Arbeloa at Real Madrid. Ronaldo hadn’t scored for his nation in a non-friendly match since the 2008 European Championship but finally found the net in that rout of South Korea for his 23rd career goal for the national team.
Portugal knocked Spain out of Euro 2004 but since then the Spanish have ended a four-decade major title drought by winning Euro 2008 and have only lost two of their last 50 matches.
Spain vs. Portugal World Cup Odds:
This match is a pick’em on the goal line, although Spain is -250 and Portugal at +180. If you wager with the draw (regulation + injury stoppage time only), Spain is Even and Portugal at +285 with the draw +220. The total is 2.5, with the under a -180 favorite. Odds are courtesy of Bodog and Sports Interaction.
Spain vs. Portugal Picks and Predictions:
Spain will win if: Obviously it would help if Torres magically finds his form, but one almost has to expect Villa to score the way he is going. He now has scored six goals in six starts in World Cups and is the all-time top scorer for Spain at the tournament. History is on Spain’s side too as it has lost only five of the past 32 meetings with Portugal – although the last one was a loss in Euro 2004.
Portugal will win if: Deco’s return is a huge boost, but Ronaldo must likely find the net. The Portuguese are playing as well as anyone in the world, as they have gone unbeaten for 19 consecutive games. Portugal has also kept a clean sheet in 22 of its past 26 matches. How will Portugal react if it allows a goal after not doing so in the group stage?
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