Portugal had the better of the first half in their Euro 2012 semi final with Spain, but there closing down was less rigorous in the second 45, and after extra time, Spain had the majority of possession, whilst Portugal sat back, holding on for penalties. The shootout ended with Cesc Fabregas firing his side into the final…
Portugal names the their strongest possible XI, with Helder Postiga injured, meaning Hugo Almeida started as the lone striker in Paulo Bento’s familiar 4-3-3. Cristiano Ronaldo started high up on the left meaning he was involved in the majority of attacks, with Nani on the opposite wing.
In midfield, Miguel Veloso started deepest, with Raul Meireles continuing to operate as more of a ‘shuttler’ to the left, and Joao Moutinho was the most advanced central player, operating to the right of centre, meaning Portugal continued with their lopsided triangle in midfield. Rui Patricio started in goal, behind a back four of Joao Pereira, Pepe, Bruno Alves and Fabio Coentrao.
Spain lined up in their 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 but the main surprise was that Alvaro Negredo was selected to lead the line, with Andres Iniesta and David Silva moving inwards from either side. Xavi had freedom through the middle to get forward, with Sergio Busquets and Xabi Alonso continuing to sit in midfield.
Iker Casillas captained his side from in goal, with Alvaro Arbeloa at right back and Jordi Alba at left back, with the latter showing tremendous drive and energy to get forward when Spain attacked, even during extra time. Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique started at centre back.
Spain pressed in their familiar fashion, looking like more of a 4-2-3-1 with Xavi in the hole pushing forward, almost becoming a second striker. However, despite pressing high, Portugal did a good enough job of keeping the ball early on and in fact, Spain were the side who struggled to get into their rhythm during the first half, as a result of Portugal’s high press and impressive work rate that didn’t allow Spain’s ball players to settle and led to quiet performances from the likes of Negredo and Silva.
Spain’s lack of rhythm with the ball was helped by the fact that Ronaldo and Nani were positioned very high up the pitch. This meant that Spain’s full backs were initially less willing to push forward in attack as they knew they would leave space in behind, and so Spain had less shirts in their attacking third than they would usually – and therefore less options to keep the ball with. Having Ronaldo and Nani high up also enabled them, along with Moutinho and Almeida, to press very high and quickly when Spain gained possession, with each player responsible for one member of the Spain back four.
Portugal were just as pleasing in attack. Ronaldo tended to position himself in the channel between Arbeloa and Pique before moving inside, looking to link up with Almeida. Ronaldo did a good job of getting in behind the space vacated by Arbeloa when he pushed forward, but when Portugal’s captain attacked, it was clear Spain tried to double up on him, usually with Arbeloa and Pique.
In the second half as Spain started to become more of a threat. Portugal defended in a 4-1-4-1 with Veloso holding and competing with Xavi.
Further forward, Moutinho pressed Alonso intelligently, restricting his time on the ball and Busquets was tracked when he moved forward by Meireles.
With Alba pushing so far forward when Spain attacked though, Nani (blue ring) was forced to follow his run all the way back into his own half, and at times looked like more of a right wing back for Portugal, and it’s fair to say he was less of an attacking threat after half time. With Nani so deep, Moutinho was prepared to drift slightly to the right, higher up the pitch, if Spain had possession down the left hand side.
Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque made the first move by swapping the unimpressive Negredo with Cesc Fabregas, meaning the introduction of a false ten, and then replaced Silva with Jesus Navas, which meant that Spain had more of a direct threat in behind.
Portugal did relatively well in dealing with the threat of Fabregas (blue ring). They left him to drop deep in between the lines but as soon as he picked up the ball, one of the two centre backs would push forward and close him down, whilst the other moved round to cover (see diagram).
Spain had the better of extra time, with Iniesta coming closest to netting, but after 120 minutes, the scores were still level.
Spain won the penalty shootout 4-2 with Cesc Fabregas netting the vital goal following a miss from Bruno Alves. In truth, Portugal can feel very unlucky and leave the tournament as one of the major success stories with the likes of Coentrao, Pereira, Moutinho and Ronaldo all standing out.
As the match progressed however, Spain gained more and more control, and can now look forward to a final on Sunday against the winner of Germany v Italy.
As always feel free to comment. You can follow me on twitter @TTTFootball.
You may also want to check out: