THE QUESTION, REALLY, is whether there is any way to beat this Spain team?
Tonight, Portugal deviated from the norm. They didn’t just accept that Spain would dominate possession. They weren’t simply content to congest and counter.
They took the game to the Spanish. And, as many expected, it initially made for a more enthralling, open contest.
What’s more, although he wasn’t quite dominating the game, Cristiano Ronaldo was successfully dominating Spanish thoughts. He completely affected how they approached the game, pinning their normally high line back much further as they attempted to deny him the space he thrives in.
For a time, too, the combined effect of all that had Spain on the ropes. They were by no means at their optimum.,
Inevitably, though, all of the effort and energy saw Portugal run out of steam. By the 90th minute, they were gone.
And, by then, it wasn’t like they had created many chances. Ronaldo had one and, even though the pass from Meireles was poor, he should have done much better.
Whereas he could have killed the game, he only killed his own performance. Thereafter, he was flat; out of it.
Spain, meanwhile, came to life.
The composure at the back that had generally kept Portugal at bay by that point – other than the Ronaldo break – created a greater well of energy.
If only Vicente Del Bosque had played one of his better strikers. Because, while the coach’s 4-3-3-0 system was somewhat vindicated by the complete ineffectiveness of Alvaro Negredo, he could have done with one of the superior forwards in Fernando Torres or Llorente being in Andres Iniesta’s position for that opportunity in the closing minutes of the 90.
Since Jesus Navas and Pedro were, by then, running riot against a jaded Portuguese XI, they could really have benefitted from a forward capable of finishing.
As could Portugal. In the end, although their approach brought Spain to the very brink, it still couldn’t produce the goal or the overall performance that would have put them out.
Spain still haven’t conceded a knock-out goal since 2006. They still haven’t been eliminated from a major international competition since 2006.
Suddenly, they’re on the verge of the greatest victory in international football history. But having considered the four years of success that led up to that, it’s worth considering the effects of all that and the context of Spain’s significantly-less-than-optimum performance tonight.
Quite simply, Spain looked fatigued. They weren’t reaching passes as regularly, they were miscontrolling the ball much more.
If anything is going to beat them on Sunday, it will arguably be that. Because, tonight, Portugal illustrated that a new approach couldn’t.