My gut tells me this is the match Spain will lose. Portugal is primed for the upset. Portugal has the offensive and defensive stars and a competent midfield. Unlike Spain, they have come through a very tough group stage. Ronaldo is in form. Spain, regardless of what Silva says, is not as good as the prior versions. I really am hoping Spain go a goal down so we can see what they are really made of. Who will be Spain’s Messi/Ronaldo/Villa if they have to claw their way back?
Why Portugal will win
- Portugal’s midfield is well balanced with a holding midfielder in Veloso, the box-to-box work rate of Meireles and the creativity of Moutinho – all played a part in setting up Ronaldo’s winning goal against the Czechs. They can keep possession well enough against Spain’s midfield press. Hopefully Bento doesn’t try to change the lineup and remove the striker for an extra midfielder.
- Ronaldo is due to have a big game against Real Barspana. He buried his Barca demons during his last match at the Nou Camp and you know he wants to pay Spain back for World Cup 2010. He will dominate Arbeloa. Yes, Arbeloa knows Ronaldo from practicing every day at Real Madrid – as do Sergio Ramos and Xabi who will help Arbeloa out on Spain’s right side. However, Ronaldo knows those three and Iker Casillas also. He will relish going against them …and Pique. Why? Because this time, Spain doesn’t have Puyol to bail them out. The added benefit of having Coentrao behind Ronaldo is that Busquets will have to shade more to the right, leaving Alba one on one with Nani. Alba has shown good speed, but Nani’s trickery is cause for concern. The big questions for Portugal are which of Almeida or Oliveira start up front, and can either take advantage of the service from the wing? My money would be on the bigger and more experienced Almeida who can give Ramos and Pique fits in the air.
- Pepe and Alves have been solid on the ground. In the air is where Portugal has had problems against Mario Gomez and Bendtner. Spain doesn’t have an aerial threat, notwithstanding Xabi’s standing header.
- I will repeat what I wrote from the France match – Spain is not the usual Spain. Puyol and Villa’s absence has hurt them at critical positions and Xavi is not playing at his normal high level. Everything is just a little off for the Spaniards and there is unease about how well Ramos and Pique will perform together in the middle if they are put under real pressure. Their dislike of each other is common knowledge and the last thing Spain needs at the knockout stage. Yes, they dominated France, but that was a function of the lineup France put out there. However, who, besides Ireland, has Spain blown away in this tournament? No one. If you sit back, play defensively and Spain will wear you down. Portugal will not make that mistake. The only team that has kept Portugal off the board in this tournament is Germany – and that took major heroics at the end of the game to do so. Portugal will show Spain the toughest test to date and if it stays close late the pressure, and two fewer days of rest, will tell on Spain.
Why Spain will win
- Spain seemed a lot more assured against France. They were never really threatened and adequately defended the threat of Ronaldo Light – Ribery. If Spain dominates the ball, and more importantly eliminate any real pressure on Casillas, Ronaldo will get frustrated, drop deeper and into the middle to get the ball, which means he then has a longer way to go to score. That will play into Spain’s hands. It has been the traditional way Barca have stopped Ronaldo.
- Ramos and Pique haven’t really been tested and haven’t really missed having Puyol. The midfield’s possession game has alleviated any real pressure and if Portugal plays three in midfield (while Portugal might get more of the ball than most), they will not be able to keep sustained pressure with two offensive minded wings who need good, wide service to inflict any real damage on Spain.
- Ronaldo hasn’t played as well as everybody thinks he has. Trust me. I’ve seen enough of Ronaldo over the last eight years. He really had one very dominating game – against the Czechs who gave him too much space and time. His first finish against Holland wasn’t clean – and he missed another sitter very similar to the one he put away for the second. He will not get that much time and space against Spain, who have enough bodies to send at him to neutralize his open field speed advantage. Slow Ronaldo down and where is the goal going to come from? Portugal will have to rely on a dead ball to get a score.
- Iniesta. Pereira has had a good tournament, but he is going to struggle against Iniesta. That pulls Pepe out of position to help. Can Xavi and Cesc make them pay?
Pre-match prediction: Spain 1 Portugal 0
My gut is one thing – and I hope it’s right because Germany vs Portugal would be a much better final than a repeat of Euro 2008. That said, my head says the Spanish midfield will be a bit too much and will wear Portugal down. If Portugal doesn’t get a goal from open play, Spain will win this match. Coentrao’s matchup against Silva and/or Cesc will determine the outcome of this game. David Silva to score.
Portugal is favored. They have to be. While I shouldn’t insult teams at this stage by suggesting stone cold locks, of all the games in this tournament – even more than Germany vs Greece, this one is a lock. The Czechs will not take Portugal by surprise. To be clear, they got crushed by Russia, had 15 good minutes against the Greeks and won the second half against Poland. Not an awe inspiring performance.
Why Czech Republic will win
- Gebre Selassie will frustrate Ronaldo and Pilar’s quick movement and offense down the left side will put pressure on Nani to backtrack. With their wings blunted, Portugal will struggle to score up front and Ronaldo will drift inside where the Czechs can pack it in and eliminate space and time.
- Baros had a good game against Poland and harried the Polish defense all night. If he has a good game, anything can happen. He set up Jiracek’s winning goal against the Poles and the Czechs are hoping he can do the same tonight.
- Petr Cech has had a below average tournament with a couple of glaring errors. However, this is the man who saved three penalties in the Champions League final and one against Messi in the semifinals. Who would you bet on if this got to penalty kicks? Ronaldo has missed penalties in the semifinals of the Champions League twice (vs Barcelona and Bayern Munich) and in the finals once (vs Barcelona). He is not going to fancy the situation if it gets to that stage.
Why Portugal will win
- Nani and Ronaldo cannot be contained in the form they are in. Also, the effort to do so is going to blunt much of the wing back play from Pilar and Gebre Selasssie. Nani should have scored from Ronaldo’s set up against Netherlands and Ronaldo did score from Nani’s pass. When Ronaldo starts drifting inside every so often, he is incredibly dangerous as a playmaker and in drawing fouls that lead to free kicks. I expect Ronaldo to score on a free kick in the next two matches.
- Pepe and Bruno Alves. Yes, they have given up goals in every match, including three off headers. However, Baros is going to struggle against the two of them – he isn’t Gomez or Bendtner. Jiracek will also struggle against Veloso, Moutinho and Meireles who are the unsung heroes of this Portugese run – they have been solid in midfield.
- They are peaking. They can see the path to winning this tournament. Ronaldo is off his duck, they have had a late game winning goal and are playing to their offensive talents.
- Tomas Rosicky is not going to play. This is the stage when every team needs their best player to make it happen. Pilar and Jiracek are not going to be able to fill the void.
Pre-game prediction: Portugal 2 Czech Republic 0
Ronaldo scores again and Nani finally slots one in as well. Only way the Czechs can win is if this goes to penalty kicks.
Both teams will feel like they have to win. Denmark doesn’t want to have to go into the last game against Germany on four points – defeat to Germany and a win by Portugal against Netherlands could put Denmark potentially out on goal difference. Portugal has got to want to go into the last game knowing that a draw would put them through instead of having to win. A loss will probably end Portugal’s tournament.
Why Denmark will win
- They’ve beaten Portugal in qualifying after having finished ahead of Portugal and qualified directly from their group. They were also in the same group during World Cup 2010 qualifying – their record over these last four matches is 2-1-1. Denmark know they can win.
- In Silberbauer they have someone capable of competing defensively with Cristiano Ronaldo. He did so adequately in the group stage and will have help from Agger, Kjaer and the midfield so he’s not on an island against the best winger in the world. It will be interesting to see if Silberbauer or Poulsen start at left back. They may deal with Nani instead as Ronaldo usually plays on the left with Nani on the right.
- Denmark beat a loaded Dutch team in the first group match and controlled the second half of the game.
- Agger and Kjaer have looked good in the central defense. That gives them enough confidence to deal with Portugal and their still unsolved striker position.
Why Portugal will win
- Denmark did give up a number of chances to Robben and van Persie. While Robben is one of the best right wingers in the world, so is Nani. The difference is you also have Ronaldo to deal with on the weak side when Nani has the ball – will Jacobsen at right back be able to handle Ronaldo? Nani has scored three times against Denmark so the wing position is going to give Denmark trouble.
- They have to in order to have a chance at qualifying.
- Pepe and Bruno Alves did stifle Gomez for the most part and Bendtner shouldn’t be any different. While Eriksen should have more space and time in the middle of the park, he will find it hard to work his magic against the work rate of Meireles and Veloso. Chances will be few for Denmark.
- Ronaldo had a decent game against Germany. However, he didn’t receive the support required to open up more space for him to operate as Portugal played defensively against Germany. That will change against Denmark – expect Ronaldo to be unleashed and move to the middle a lot more. He should have switched flanks with Nani in the last game and gone against the much shorter Lahm. I believe they will be more flexible on the wings this time.
Pre-game prediction: Portugal 1 Denmark 0
Nani scores one for Portugal in a tense but offensive minded match.