The natural assumption would be to back Spain, who have David Villa, Fernando Torres, Xavi, Xabi Alonso, Cesc Fabregas, etc. But that belies some mixed success that has come their way and doesn’t take into account some of the form players of this World Cup – Tiago, Eduardo, Bruno Alves and Raul Meireles, not to mention one Cristiano Ronaldo.
For as good as Spain were in Euro 2008 and for the recent qualifying campaign, they are far from infallible, as USA at the Confederations Cup and Switzerland in the opening game can attest. In truth, Spain have been unimpressive, with a paltry 2-0 win against Honduras and a near calamitous 2-1 scrape past Chile accompanying their 1-0 loss to Switzerland. Heavily reliant on David Villa, Spain are not in the greatest vein of self-belief.
As for Portugal, they are unbeaten, were more than a match for Brazil and Ivory Coast in 0-0 shut-outs and thumped North Korea with the best result in the tournament so far: 7-0. Most importantly, they have yet to concede and you wouldn’t fancy meeting Portugal in a penalty shoot-out.
From a purely tactical point of view, Spain would appear to have better defenders than Portugal (with the exception of Capdevila) but Portugal’s system makes them much harder to break down and compact. Equally as fast on the counter, what might come into effect is team fatigue, as well as temperament. Although their play works primarily on tactical fouling, defending and breaking upfield, Spain have yet to concede a single card for misdemeanours (particularly fortunate in Sergio Busquets’ case), whereas Portugal have 7 yellows already. Clearly, the Portuguese are more likely to find themselves in trouble and in danger of having a numerical disadvantage to Spain.
Fatigue has begun to creep into both teams. Fernando Torres is clearly not at his best and Vicente Del Bosque is said to be considering dropping him, with other players like Xavi and Capdevila looking a little short in the stride. For Carlos Queiros, this is not as much of a problem as the only tired player, Deco, is no longer considered for the starting line-up.
Very probably, Portugal will concede their first goal here, and the man to do it will more than likely be the excellent David Villa. But due another goal is Cristiano Ronaldo, who knows most of the Spanish team extremely well. 1-1 at full-time, this may go all the way to penalties and, given the luck they have been riding of late, Spain might just slip up here.