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Portugal vs Spain: The first real test for the La Roja defense?

Portugal vs Spain: The first real test for the La Roja defense?

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With Cristiano Ronaldo and Co. looking dangerous on the counter, the "vulnerable" Spanish defense is to face its first real test in the tournament...

Spain’s defensive woes are well documented in football history. In fact, it was due to their suspect defense and inability to out muscle opponents that forced former trainer Luis Aragones to come to the conclusion of monopolizing the ball and employ the current one or two touch passing system. This has significantly improved Spain’s defensive performance as they utilize their midfielders to press the ball instantly and keep a high line of defense. With Spain’s defense still seen to be vulnerable against counter attacks, the Euro 2012 semifinal against Portugal will be the first real test for La Furia Roja in the tournament. Will they prevail over the all firing Portuguese?

Swapping an extra midfielder in place of a defender didn’t go down well with the Spanish press as they doubted whether Del Bosque had taken one midfielder too many when the squad was announced ahead of the competition. Further questions were raised as a defensive lapse against Italy allowed Di Natale to score. Gerard Pique was culpable of losing the Italian forward and Sergio Ramos was guilty of playing him onside. They would thank the stupidity of Mario Balotelli for not hvaing punished them earlier in the game with Ramos being allowed to absolve himselfof the error. An assured display against Republic of Ireland gave a hint of hope that the defense was reliable in the absence of old warhorse, Carles Puyol. Further clean sheets against Croatia and France proved that the absence of Puyol won’t undermine Spain’s defensive stability. Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos are young, experienced and skilled defenders. They are good physical opponents as well as an asset while defending or attacking from a set piece.

Fantastic Four?

Until now, the Spanish defense hasn’t really been tested as Ireland didn’t pose any threat, Croatia put in a few nervy moments but the defense was able to handle it and limiting the French to no clear opportunities on goal was what the manager demanded. Things will be different when La Roja face the Seleccao in the semi finals. The Portuguese are looking extremely dangerous on the counter attack with both Nani and Cristiano Ronaldo having pace and skill to trouble any defense. One simply cannot count on Portugal to play only on the counter; they are good in the air and have few players who can score from distance and set pieces. Raul Meireles always tries to catch the keeper off guard while shooting from distance and Ronaldo is dangerous from any range be it from set pieces or open play. Spanish defenders will need to be on top of their game to nullify the threat posed by the Portuguese forwards who have the added advantage of a day’s rest.
Player Tackles Clearances Blocks
Pique 5 22 2
Ramos 12 13 0
Arbeloa 10 9 0
Alba 9 6 0

However, Spanish also have an advantage that Sergio Ramos and Alvaro Arbeloa are both extremely familiar with Cristiano Ronaldo and Gerard Pique can give some insights about Nani and CR7 from his days at Old Trafford. Arbeloa is a reliable defender and has rarely put a foot wrong in any match so far. Casillas describes Arbeloa as the “world’s strongest man” and the versatile right back needs to put in a “strong” performance in the semis. Pique and Ramos will need to deal with the aerial threat posed by Pepe, Alves, Ronaldo and Almeida. They wouldn’t be troubled much from open play probably but need to stay alert for any cheeky passes or tricks especially from Nani or Ronaldo. Jordi Alba has been a sensation at left back in the tournament and he will be tasked with marking Nani. He’ll also need to pressurize the Portuguese with his energetic runs forward.

"Spain is the favourite. Portugal are contenders as well and one of the best counter attacking teams. Even Spain are going to find it difficult againt them but Spain have one of the best defenses."
- Joachim Low

With Puyol’s Spain future in a limbo, this is the first real test for the new central pair of Ramos and Pique as they face a lethal opponent in a crucial match of an important tournament. With Spanish players highlighting the threat posed by Ronaldo and Co. they insisted on playing their own game and not bothering about the rest. Will the “vulnerable” Spanish defense pass its first real test? Cristiano Ronaldo has other ideas...


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