KEIR RADNEDGE in DONETSK
— Spain are trying hard to remind themselves in the run-up to the Euro 2012 semi-final in the Donbass Arena that Portugal are not only Cristiano Ronaldo, however much his personality and talent has illuminated the competition and the last Spanish season.
The Iberian derby promises a feast for the purist because of the technical brilliance of both teams and the prospect of seeing Ronaldo confronting Real Madrid defensive colleagues Alvaro Arbeloa and Iker Casillas.
Arbeloa is the Spain rightback who will see the most of Ronaldo while Spain skipper Casillas will need to maintain his concentration to keep out the Portugal captain’s all-distance efforts on goal.
“It’s never easy to stop Ronaldo,” said Arbeloa. “He has scored three goals and had some really good games. He’s one of the very best players so it’s very demanding, mentally and physically, to play against him and you have to be on top of your game. You can’t hope to stop him for all of the 90 minutes so it’s a beautiful challenge.
“But we also know that Portugal are not only Ronaldo but have other good players such as Nani, to take one example, who is having a really good tournament. They have other quality players too so we have to stop all of them not just Cristiano.”
Real Madrid will start almost as many players for Portugal (Fabio Coentrao, Pepe and Ronaldo) as for Spain (Casillas, Arbeloa, Sergio Ramos and Xabi Alonso) but there will no happy banter exchanged between them.
Arbeloa, who has exchanged any messages with Ronaldo and does not expect to, said: “It’s the same as when you play for your club against your mates from the national team. Tomorrow I’m not going to be friends with my clubmates and that’s the same for all us . . . I will most definitely be fighting for Spain to reach the final.”
Spain beat Portugal on their way to victory in the World Cup in South Africa two years ago and that result is far more relevant to this repeat than the post-World Cup friendly which Portugal won 4-0 against a weakened Spanish side.
Manager Vicente Del Bosque reported no fitness problems and playmaker Andres Iniesta said he and his team-mate were inconcerned that Portugal had enjoyed two days’ more rest and recuperation than Spain since their own quarter-final.
“At this stage,” said the man who can speak with all the rarefied authority of a World Cup Final match-winner, “playing is what matters most, not sitting around. We’re not interested in talking about being tired because we have to concentrate on the game. We can think about whether we’re tired or not after the game.
“All we want right now is to reach another final which would be something unique.”
The way to do that, according to reserve forward Alvaro Negredo, will be by fair means not foul. He said: “We don’t have any special plan for Ronaldo, not even committing fouls. It’s best not to do anything stupid or commit stupid fouls but we have the best goalkeeper in the world and he knows Ronaldo – and that’s a good thing.”
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