The Iberian Clasico: Real Madrid-Barcelona rivalry takes centre stage as Portugal meet Spain

The two neighbours meet in the semi-finals of Euro 2012 on Wednesday, but only one can go on to Sunday's showpiece. With so much at stake, old tensions may resurface
 Ben Hayward
 Spain Expert Follow on


It's all about sharing. Spain and Portugal share a border, two coastlines and an entire peninsula. They share a climate, a parallel political past and currently, a crisis. But right now, they also share a dream. 

The two neighbouring nations come face to face in the semi-finals of Euro 2012 on Wednesday night and only one can progress to the continental competition's Sunday showpiece in Kiev. At 20:45 CET this evening, friendships are put on hold, rivalries renewed: the Iberian Clasico takes centre stage.

Spain have played Portugal more times than anyone else in their history, having met on 34 occasions (with 16 victories for La Roja, 12 defeats and six draws). The familiarity extends to football, with many Portuguese players plying their trade in Spain and three - Cristiano Ronaldo, Pepe and Fabio Coentrao - at Real Madrid.

Madrid, under fellow Portuguese Jose Mourinho, have found success in the form of a clinical counterattacking style which got the better of Barcelona in La Liga last term, while Spain shape up much more like the Catalan club, with a passing and possession philosophy.

"It's Spain against Portugal, not Barcelona against Real Madrid," Catalan midfielder Sergio Busquets said this week.

And club colleague Cesc Fabregas added: "Portugal play a bit differently to Madrid.

But the essence is similar - and there will be no shortage of spice on Wednesday."

Talk in the Spanish camp before the tournament had revolved around tensions emanating from the Clasico clashes of 2010-11 and 2011-12, which have taken their toll on relations between players at Spain's two top teams.

& Spain
& Portugal
Sergio Busquets
Cesc Fabregas
Andres Iniesta
Gerard Pique
Victor Valdes
Fabio Coentrao
Cristiano Ronaldo

"If the Euros had been last year, there may have been a problem," goalkeeper Iker Casillas admitted recently. The issue has since been solved, with coach Vicente del Bosque ever the mediator in that particular battle, but with many Madrid and Barca players facing off again on Wednesday, tensions may mount once more.

Mourinho, meanwhile, may be absent, but there is controversy even before the match gets underway, with the Seleccao reportedly 'outraged' at the selection of Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir to officiate the match on Wednesday, believing - according to the Portuguese press - the man in black will favour the Spanish side in Donetsk.

Meanwhile, Pepe and Busquets have been at the centre of outcry and polemic in Clasico fall-outs over the last two campaigns, but both have behaved impeccably at Euro 2012. Until now, at least.

Pepe, Coentrao and Ronaldo will come up against club colleagues Alvaro Arbeloa, Xabi Alonso,  Casillas and Sergio Ramos on Wednesday, as well as Clasico foes Busquets, Fabregas, Iniesta, Gerard Pique and Xavi. One way or another, there will be fireworks.

Aside from the Madrid trio, four other Portuguese players feature in La Liga: Ricardo Costa and Joao Pereira for Valencia (the latter recently signed from Sporting Lisbon), Helder Postiga for Zaragoza and Ruben Micael at Atletico Madrid (although he also spent last season at the Aragonese outfit).

None of the Spain squad play in Portugal, although Benfica's Javi Garcia made Vicente del Bosque's pre-selection before being cut. Nevertheless, the familiarity between the two teams means each knows exactly what the other will do on Wednesday. So, after the 1-0 win for Spain over Portugal at the 2010 World Cup and some revenge in the shape of a 4-0 success for Portugal in a friendly fixture five months later, the Iberian Clasico will hog the limelight once more.

In football terms, there is no great rivalry between the two teams, yet the Portuguese have been irked ever since losing their independence to the Spanish in the 16th century. From Spain, "neither good winds nor good marriages come," a famous saying states, and the Portuguese people often relish the opportunity to put one over their noisier neighbours.

Relations, however, are generally good among both populations on the peninsula, with many - including footballers - crossing the border to work. So as the two teams cross paths on Wednesday, let's hope the bad temper of the Barcelona-Real Madrid rivalry fails to re-emerge - and that a special spectacle can be shared.