Kick-Off: Tuesday, June 29, 20:30 CET.
Green Point Stadium, Cape Town.
Green Point Stadium, Cape Town.
The Road To The Final Starts Now
Spain were expected to light up the World Cup right from the inception but things haven't gone as planned. The Europeans were placed in a relatively easy group as they were to take on Chile, Switzerland and Honduras in Group H. However, the opening game defeat to the Swiss put the Spaniards in a fix before Vicente del Bosque's side eventually won the group.
Nevertheless, Spain supporters won't be exceptionally confident of having an easy time against the Portuguese. The Iberians couldn't break down a defensive Swiss side and also conceded a sloppy goal that saw them drop all three points.
Against Honduras, of course, Spain won as anticipated, but although the 2-1 win against Chile was justified, La Roja did struggle at times against the high-line approach and high pressure applied by the South Americans.
Questions have been raised over Spain's playing style, with some doubters claiming that under Del Bosque the Euro 2008 winners do not play their usual tiki-taka football. The former Real Madrid coach has, of course, dismissed such notions but it cannot be denied that Spain haven't looked at their best in the World Cup so far.
With their defensive record and counter-attacking threats, Portugal will provide a stiff test for Spain's attacking players and defenders. Nonetheless, David Villa is banging in goals again and Andres Iniesta rekindled himself against Chile - positive factors that could see Spain through to the quarter-finals.
The Dark Horses
Like Spain, Portugal have yet to light up South Africa, but, unlike Spain, they were not the pre-tournament favourites. In fact, many observers had written them off as they felt that the Europeans would struggle to progress past the group stage.
However, the Portuguese have proven their detractors wrong so far in the World Cup. A dull but eventually important 0-0 draw with African giants Ivory Coast in Group G was followed by a 7-0 hammering of Asian minnows North Korea. Their final group game ended in an insipid draw with World Cup favourites Brazil, who had already qualified for the last 16.
Portugal's weakness was exhibited both against the Ivorians and the Brazilians as they failed to score in each game, although they did create chances. The lack of a world class striker means that the midfield has to share the burden of goalscoring, but the Euro 2004 finalists do have a brilliant defensive record
Portugal have yet to concede a goal in the World Cup so far and have kept 22 clean sheets in their last 26 matches. Furthermore, they have gone 19 games unbeaten under coach Carlos Queiroz.
Portugal will go into the game against Spain as underdogs but, with the European champions not looking high on confidence, the 2006 World Cup semi-finalists will be confident of frustrating them. With Portugal's potential to embark on counter-attacks and the presence of a certain Cristiano Ronaldo, they will still have a chance.
June 25: Chile 1-2 Spain (World Cup)
June 21: Spain 2-0 Honduras (World Cup)
June 16: Spain 0-1 Switzerland (World Cup)
Jun 8 Spain 6-0 Poland (Friendly)
Jun 3 Spain 1-0 South Korea (Friendly)
June 25: Portugal 0-0 Brazil (World Cup)
June 21: Portugal 7-0 North Korea (World Cup)
June 15: Ivory Coast 0-0 Portugal (World Cup)
June 8: Portugal 3-0 Mozambique (Friendly)
June 1: Portugal 3-1 Cameroon (Friendly)
Centre-back Raul Albiol has been ruled out of the last 16 clash with Portugal on Tuesday with sprained ligaments in his right ankle. He fell awkwardly during a training session on Saturday and was carried off the pitch. Xabi Alonso sprained his ankle in Spain's 2-1 win against Chile and, although it is said to be a minor problem, the Real Madrid midfielder may not start.
Alonso's possible absence could allow Javi Martinez to start alongside Sergio Busquets in defensive midfield. This will give Xavi more freedom to pull the strings in the attacking midfield department. Fernando Torres will start despite his poor form in the World Cup and David Silva will be on the bench.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Casillas, Ramos, Pique, Puyol, Capdevilla; Busquets, Martinez; Iniesta, Xavi, Villa; Torres
Midfielder Deco has made a recovery from the hip injury that forced him to miss Portugal's final Group G game against Brazil. But the former Champions League winner with Barcelona is unlikely to be drafted into the starting line-up by coach Carlos Queiroz as Tiago has done quite well so far.
However, midfielder Danny is a doubt for the Spain game after suffering a bruise on his left thigh. Ruben Amorim also remains a doubt with a thigh problem.
Paulo Ferreira should start at right-back while Pepe is likely to retain his place as the defensive midfielder. Atletico Madrid's Simao Sabrosa will occupy one wing while Cristiano Ronaldo will be on the other.
Probable Line-up (4-3-3): Eduardo, Ferreira, Alves, Carvalho, Coentrao; Tiago, Pepe, Raul Meireles; Simao, Liedson, Ronaldo
PLAYERS TO WATCH
David Villa (Spain)
The newly signed Barcelona player is one of the best strikers in the world - some even suggest that he is the best. Indeed, Villa has been Spain's best and most consistent player so far in the World Cup, having scored three goals and set up the other, meaning that he has played indispensable roles in all of Spain's goals scored in the World Cup.
Portugal have a brilliant defensive record but to maintain it they will have to stop Spain's all-time top goalscorer in the World Cup finals, who is placed ninth in the Castrol Rankings.
Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
The Real Madrid superstar has had a modest World Cup campaign so far, having failed to light up the competition as much as he would have liked to. However, Ronaldo came good in the second half against North Korea and was arguably the most threatening player on the pitch against Brazil.
Portugal don't have a great striker or a prolific goalscorer but on Tuesday evening, Ronaldo, placed second in the Castrol Rankings, will have to 'invent' the game and create chances. The former Manchester United star will also be deadly on set-pieces.
On paper Spain should be the favourites given that they have better quality players and are more coherent as a team. In fact, theoretically Spain are better in every area than Portugal and a win for the European champions is on the cards.
However, Portugal have a very good defensive record and a combative midfield that is not going to let itself get overrun easily by the Spanish armada. Moreover, with Cristiano Ronaldo and Simao on the wings, Portugal are very deadly on the counter-attacks.
The Castrol World Cup match predictor suggests a 63% chance of Spain winning the match while Portugal are given just 37%. However, the match will be closer than those stats suggest and one shouldn't really be surprised if it goes to penalties.
Spain 1-1 Portugal (a.e.t). Portugal to win 5-3 on penalties.
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Who will come out on top? Check out Castrol Football's 2010 World Cup Match Predictor.