Euro 2012 Semifinal: How Portugal Can Beat Spain

Matt Madsen@mmadsen5Correspondent IIJune 23, 2012

Ronaldo and Nani are the keys that can unlock Spain.
Ronaldo and Nani are the keys that can unlock Spain.Ian Walton/Getty Images

Spain have proven unstoppable in recent years, but Portugal can beat them at Euro 2012.

It just requires a bit of moxie.

If Portugal was watching the Spain vs. France game—and you know they were—then they saw Spain's weakness on full display. It's the same weakness shared by La Liga powerhouses Barcelona and Real Madrid.

They are susceptible to counterattacks.

Due to their overwhelming advantage in possession of the ball, Spain's defenders tend to get caught too far up the pitch a few times per game. We've seen it time and time again, and it was particularly evident in Barcelona this season.

Spain is not Barcelona, obviously. But the tiki-taka style of play is one embraced by both sides. It favors short passing and long spells of possession. Just as goalkeepers can become complacent without much to do for long stretches, so too can defenders lose their sense of urgency when they are so sure of their side keeping the ball.

So confident are Spain in their possession that they are willing to send their fullbacks up into the opposing box.

Spain's first goal against France was created by a brilliant Jordi Alba run past the French defense before sending in a precise cross to Xabi Alonso for the goal.

While it looked beautiful, what would've happened if France had marked Alonso and cleared the ball to a midfielder?

Spain will be in trouble if Pique and Ramos find themselves alone against Ronaldo and Nani.
Spain will be in trouble if Pique and Ramos find themselves alone against Ronaldo and Nani.Jasper Juinen/Getty Images

The way things were going for France, probably nothing. But France doesn't have Cristiano Ronaldo.

Fact is, Spain have been a bit lucky at times through their historic run in the last three major tournaments.

They live dangerously in defense but have only paid the price a few times. France had a number of chances to strike against Spain but simply could not capitalize. Their best chances fizzled out due to their own poor touches and passing more often than anything a Spanish defender did.

But there is no player more devastating or efficient in counterattacking football than Ronaldo, besides maybe his La Liga opposite number, Lionel Messi.

Few in the world can match Ronaldo's pace, and certainly nobody defending for Spain. Alba could make things more difficult for Ronaldo on the break, but he can only do so if he's not attacking.

And he will be.

Spain have made a living of lulling teams to sleep and winning low-scoring matches. This almost always requires them to score first, in order to hold possession and not feel pressured to force passes in attack.

If Portugal can stun Spain with an early hit on the break, La Furia Roja will be in massive trouble. Portugal have the athletes and capability in defense to park the bus and outlet to Ronaldo and Nani when the opportunity arises.

Spain is not a side built to win from behind, especially if they intend to start the match without a true striker.

This game may end up looking a lot like Barcelona vs. Real Madrid. Except this time, Barça won't have Messi to break the game open.

If Ronaldo can make the most of the three-to-five chances he's sure to get, this is going to be a wonderful battle to watch.