We assess three individual on-field tussles that could decide Spain's semi-final with Portugal.
Last Updated: 27/06/12 10:34am
The first Euro 2012 semi-final on Wednesday evening will see Spain look to book their place in the final as they bid to retain their European crown and reassert their authority as the world's best team. Standing in their way are neighbouring Portugal, who will again look to captain Cristiano Ronaldo to provide the inspiration. Here, we look at three key individual battles on the pitch which could decide what should be a fascinating affair.
FERNANDO TORRES V PEPE
Although the likelihood is that Torres will start on the substitutes' bench the Chelsea man has figured at some point in all of Spain's four matches to date and could be a game-changer if needed on Wednesday. What should be an evenly fought affair could be decided in the latter stages - with £50million man Torres a more than handy option off the bench. Torres' season ended with a flicker of hope of recapturing his former glory, and despite a shaky start to the tournament as a substitute against Italy he proved his worth by scoring twice against Ireland. He will need to produce this kind of performance and more if he is deployed by Vicente Del Bosque as he will be facing Portugal's defensive commander Pepe whose strength and awareness will make his side difficult to break down. Supremely confident, with a goal to his name in the competition and coming off the back of a title-winning season at Real Madrid, Pepe has shown he can handle any of the top strikers around. Torres cannot allow his form to let him down if he wants to unlock the Portuguese defence and send Spain through.
CRISTIANO RONALDO V ALVARO ARBELOA
The two Real Madrid team-mates line up opposite each other. Ronaldo will be terrorising the left wing, as well as dropping into a more central position to help spark moves when required, whilst Arbeloa is operating in the right-back position for his national team. Ronaldo is not only instrumental in constructing many of Portugal's attacks, he is often there to finish them off too, as he has shown with three goals in the final two group games. Had the woodwork not denied him on a further four occasions he would be way out in front in the scoring charts. Arbeloa will have to track him throughout and communicate with his team-mates in order to deal with the threat. Stopping Ronaldo is not a one-man job. If Spain fail to keep Ronaldo in check, Arbeloa knows better than most what he is capable of. The former Liverpool man has seen his form throughout the competition scrutinised by some sections of the media back in Spain but Arbeloa insists he retains the confidence of his team-mates. Whether that will still be the case after an evening chasing Ronaldo remains to be seen.
XABI ALONSO V JOAO MOUTINHO
Madrid's Alonso, known as an accomplished holding midfielder, came to the fore in Spain's quarter-final against France as he scored twice. On his 100th appearance for his country it was Alonso who took the game by the scruff of the neck, as his brace took his total for his country up to 14. Not a bad return for a player usually deployed in a deep-lying role to allow Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas to flourish in front of him. Moutinho can operate in a similar holding role, but has looked threatening in a more advanced position so far in the competition, supplying two assists and providing numerous dangerous balls to the forwards. He has also shown to be more than capable of spreading the ball out to Ronaldo and Nani on the wings. Both will look to stifle their opponents, although with Spain's possession-dominated play, Porto man Moutinho could be set to do the most running. Both will also look to get forward in support of attacking moves.