Ukraine, Jun24: Playing against defending champion Spain at Euro 2012 has got even harder.
Portugal, at least, has had an extra 48 hours to try and figure out a way of countering Spain's different systems of play.
Spain has alternated between a traditional attack led by striker Fernando Torres and a six-man midfield fronted by playmaker Cesc Fabregas, with the latter picked to start Saturday's 2-0 quarterfinal victory over France.
Spain returns to the Donbass Arena to play its Iberian neighbors in Wednesday's European Championship semifinal, where the six-man midfield could well return. Coach Vicente del Bosque has tended to use the system against tougher opponents, deploying it against 2006 world champion Italy in a 1-1 draw in their Group C opener.
Spain beat Portugal 1-0 en route to its World Cup win two years ago, and the Portuguese will already have been seeking ways to disrupt Spain's game. Though lacking sparkle, Spain's tactics have effectively stifled its opponents and helped maintain the team's remarkable defensive record.
Since coming through the group stage of Euro 2008, Spain has not conceded a goal in the knockout rounds of a major tournament, a run of eight games.
For the Portuguese, having an extra two days to recover from their quarterfinals win over the Czech Republic on Thursday could be a real bonus.
“We were very tired by the end of the game and that's normal,” Del Bosque said. “We need to recover well and this 48 hours extra they have is a little bit of a handicap (for us).”
Del Bosque said the change in weather had also fatigued his team, which will be training in the cooler climates of Gdansk in northern Poland before again returning to the heat and humidity of eastern Ukraine on Tuesday.
Spain's victory kept alive the possibility of a Spain-Germany final, something France coach Laurent Blanc sees as the most probable ending to the tournament. The Germans will face either Italy or England in Thursday's semifinal.
“To this point of the Euro there are two teams that have showed they are strongest, that they are the real favorites and that's Germany and Spain. That's not so surprising,” Blanc said.
“Spain is very difficult to beat. You have to be so efficient against Spain, with so little of the ball. It's very difficult for all teams, but Germany is showing it can maybe do better.”
Spain beat the Germans 1-0 in the World Cup semifinals, having also beaten them by the same scoreline in the final of Euro 2008, thanks to a goal from Torres. The Chelsea striker has failed to find his best form for the national team since then and, although he has scored two goals in the tournament, a third start seems unlikely.
With all opponents changing tactics for Spain, Portugal should be no different. But that doesn't worry the favorites.
“We know Portugal perfectly, it's going to be a tough game since it's one step from the final where we want to be,” said Alonso, who plays with Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo, Pepe and Fabio Coentrao at Real Madrid.
“Most of the times we know the opponents may try a few adjustments, so it's not news to us,” Alonso said. “We just keep passing until we find the best option.”