x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Euro 2012: Facing Cristiano Ronaldo a 'beautiful challenge'

To stop Portugal you just have to stop one man, to stop Spain you have to stop the team entire, writes Paul Radley .

Cristiano Ronaldo, right, gets past the Czech defenders Michal Kadlec, left, David Limbersky, centre, and Tomas Sivok during the quarter-final match.
Cristiano Ronaldo, right, gets past the Czech defenders Michal Kadlec, left, David Limbersky, centre, and Tomas Sivok during the quarter-final match.

Spain have no special master plan to counter the threat of Cristiano Ronaldo during tonight's meeting with Portugal at the Donbass Arena, "not even concerning fouls".

As European and world champions, the Spaniards would be within their rights to think Portugal should be worried about what they have to offer rather than vice versa.

However, they know Ronaldo, who started slowly in this competition but has been his country's match-winner in their last two games presents a very real threat.

The defending champions are well aware of the merits of Portugal's leading player, who scored 46 goals for Real Madrid in the Spanish Primera Liga last season.

Alvaro Negredo, the Spain forward, revealed they have not discussed specific plans to thwart him, not even when it comes to stemming the amount of free-kicks he wins.

Vicente del Bosque, the Spain coach, says his side plan to stick to what they know.

"Of course we have to take notice of Cristiano Ronaldo as he's an excellent player," Del Bosque said.

"It's logical there has been so much talk about him, he plays in Spain, which is also a factor.

"We will just be ourselves. Of course, we have to pay attention to certain details of the opponents, but it's important to play our own game and develop our own ideas."

The task of marking Ronaldo will be left with his clubmate at the Bernabeu, Alvaro Arbeloa, who insists they will not be friends this evening.

"You have to be prepared mentally and physically, especially when you play against somebody like this." Arbeloa said.

"He is one of the best players, so you have to be on top of your game. Of course you cannot stop him for 90 minutes.

"It really is a beautiful challenge for me as I like to measure myself against the best players in the world."

Given the more or less faultless advance they have made so far towards a third successive major title, Spain are understandably confident ahead of their semi-final tie.

They are 18 competitive matches without defeat - 17 of those victories - and yet they are not entirely without their detractors.

They were even jeered by some sections of the crowd at this ground against France on Saturday for not attacking enough.

"We have our own style and it's brought us success," said Andres Iniesta, the Barcelona midfielder. "We won two trophies with this style of play.

"Not everyone likes the same things. Diversity of opinion is what makes [football] so special. Any opinions are valid.

"But the truth is once you have a team that always attacks, and you attack against a defence without any spaces, of course it is not as attractive as if it's an open match between two teams who want to win.

"This is the style that brought us success and we cannot forget that a few years back this changed the history of Spain forever."

Spain prospered in their quarter-final against a France side who opted for a "boring" game plan, as Laurent Blanc, their manager, tried to stifle the champions with a defensive line-up.

It is likely to be a different proposition against a Portugal side who beat them 4-0 in a friendly two years ago, as Paulo Bento, their coach, says his side are going to attack.

"I'm very confident because we are a team who has played with a lot of heart and courage," Bento said at yesterday's press conference.

"That game [the 4-0 victory] won't be a reference for tomorrow's game. We are talking about the semi-final of a European Championship now. We don't look to the past.

"We have ambition, we have courage. It is going to be about patience, we know what we have to do and we have to impose pressure on our opponents.

"We are aware it is going to be difficult, but I think [Spain] also know we can pose a lot of problems as well."

While Del Bosque has the dilemma of whether to play Fernando Torres up front on his own or Cesc Fabregas as a withdrawn forward, Bento has had his own striking options decided for him.

Helder Postiga, the first-choice centre-forward, misses out after injuring his thigh against Czech Republic, so Hugo Almeida is handed a starting place.

"Spain have stunning players, and we are going to have to to everything we can to try to score," said Almeida, the Besiktas striker.

"We will have to stick to our style and care about ourselves. We are concentrating on playing a great game."

pradley@thenational.ae

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