The Cup Running Over

June 28, 2010 5:59 PM

Portugal-Spain Preview: Not the Matchup the Spanish Necessarily Wanted


The Good News: On paper at least, the best team in the tournament. And going in, with its powerful offense, it looked like the team on the best roll, having lost only one game over two years. Despite playing poorly, it still won its group.

The Bad News: So far, Spain has consisted of David Villa, Andres Iniesta, and nine underperformers. ("We won! (But this doesn't look like Spain)") read the front page of the sports daily, AS, complaining about an approach which, unusually for Spain, featured two deep holding midfielders.) Are striker Fernando Torres and midfielder Xavi fit? In the loss to Switzerland, the Spanish showed that if a team plays a conservative resolute defense, Spain may not have a Plan B. And guess which team plays the most resolute defense in South Africa?

Pedigree: Given the quality of the players, one of the worst. Spain has never gone past the quarterfinals, imploding for a variety of reasons too numerous to name here.

Player to Watch: So far it's been goalscorer Villa. But he can't do it alone.

To Win: Find a way to break down a Portuguese defense that held both Brazil and Ivory Coast scoreless. Easier said than done.

Sergio Ramos is one of numerous Spanish players who has had a subpar Cup so far.


The Good News: The best defense in South Africa. Portugal played Brazil even -- maybe more than even. And Cristiano Ronaldo is always capable of a breakout game.

The Bad News: The offense. Not scoring against Brazil is one thing, but Ivory Coast? If this team should ever get behind, it would find it very hard to equalize.

Pedigree: Recently great, but not before that. This is only the fourth time it has even qualified for the tournament. Last time, however, it finished fourth; it finished second at Euro 2004 (when it hosted), and it got to the quarters of Euro 2008 where it lost to finalist Germany 3-2. So, it's on a bit of a roll.

Player to Watch: Who's marking David Villa for Portugal? That's the man to watch.

To Win: This may be the only team in the world that may find shutting down Spain easier than scoring against it. If Portugal could score first (a familiar refrain), it could ice the game because Spain is a very different team when it has to play from behind.

Prediction: This isn't the conventional wisdom but the Portuguese have the potential to tie the Spanish in knots in the battle of Iberia; they've posted 21 clean sheets in their last 25 games over two years. Sure, they'll concede possession for 2/3 of the field but in the final third, the Spanish will find it very slow going. Portugal needs to display more clinical finishing that it has shown in ages, since it will get a few chances on the break and must convert them. If it goes to penalties -- which has always been a better bet for this game than any other in the round of 16 -- we think the Spanish are in trouble, despite the ability of keeper Iker Casillas, because, well, that's what happens to Spain. Out on a limb: In the first World Cup meeting of these teams ever, if the same out-of-form Spanish team shows up for this game that has shown up for the first three, we give Portugal the edge.


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