Portugal full of confidence ahead of Spain clash
Donetsk, Ukraine (Sports Network) - The only thing standing between Spain and a third straight trip to a major final is Portugal.
A Portugal team that entered Euro 2012 having gone winless in three games prior to the competition - scoring just one goal - and a side that lost its opening match to Germany in the difficult "Group of Death."
But the team that Spain will face on Wednesday in the semifinals in Donetsk is a different one altogether.
Manager Paulo Bento saw his men recover from that opening match defeat against the Germans to secure wins over Denmark and the Netherlands before dispatching the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals.
And now Bento brings a confident group together for a shot at Spain, which is attempting to become the first national team ever to win three major tournaments in succession.
Spain has been effective, if not attractive, so far at Euro 2012, playing to a 1-1 draw with Italy to start the tournament before handing out a 4-0 thrashing to Ireland in its second game.
After grinding out a 1-0 victory over Croatia to win Group C, the Spanish easily sent France packing in the quarterfinals with a 2-0 win.
Spain was responsible for Portugal's second-round exit at the 2010 World Cup, and although there is little change from that Portuguese side to this year's edition, Spain midfielder Xabi Alonso believes this will be an entirely different test for his team.
"It's pretty much the same Portugal side (that the Spanish beat 1-0 in the 2010 second round match)," said Alonso. "But from the morale point of view, they are on another planet from the one of 2010. We are very aware of their strengths and notably of their outstanding forwards... We know them really well and vice versa. Thus there will be no major surprises. But it will be an intense affair."
Cristiano Ronaldo is one of those outstanding forwards, having scored three goals in the first four games of the tournament. But he has yet to score in three meetings against Portugal's Iberian neighbor.
There will be no secrets for either side when the two square off on Wednesday, and Portugal midfielder Custodio doesn't think his team will alter its approach against the defending champions.
"Our weapons aren't a secret," Custodio said. "We use them every game, and we're going to play in the same style that we have in every other game so far. We'll try and be aggressive when we have the ball. We're very comfortable with the game plan, and we believe in the coach's ideas."
Spain looked very comfortable in defeating France in Saturday's quarterfinal, which extended a remarkable defensive streak in knockout round games at major competitions.
For all the flair and talented attacking players at its disposal, defense is how Spain has won titles.
The Spanish have kept clean sheets in their last eight games in knockout round play at major tournaments, with the last goal against coming in the round of 16 against France at the 2006 World Cup.
Spain coach Vicente del Bosque has even deployed lineups with no true striker at Euro 2012, instead opting for six midfield players to control play with a dizzying amount of passes.
Unlike Spain, the closest that Portugal has ever come to lifting a major trophy was a 1-0 defeat to Greece in the final of Euro 2004.
And while Portugal defender Joao Pereira has respect for what Spain has accomplished, he believes that there is also a feeling that his team has the ability to end that historic run and finally capture that elusive first crown.
"We have a lot of respect for them, but we have respect for ourselves too; we have a great squad and great players, and we're confident in our way of playing," Pereira said.