Cesc Fabregas
Cesc Fabregas has already scored twice at Euro 2012, as he has been deployed as a forward dropping deep into midfield. Reuters

When and where: The Euro 2012 semifinal kicks-off from the Donbass Arena in Donetsk, Ukraine at 2.45 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by ESPN, with a live stream available on ESPN3.

Preview: It says something about the ability and profile of the man that despite all the intriguing facets to Wednesday's first semifinal and the avalanche of talent, Cristiano Ronaldo has dominated pre-match discussion.

After a stuttering start to the competition, Portugal and Ronaldo has found their form and are seen by many as a realistic threat to end Spain's dominance of the international landscape.

There is certain logic behind the idea. Ronaldo has demonstrated in this tournament that he has the ability to hurt sides on the break like few others. He will also be supported by another flying winger on the other side in Nani, whose performances arguably overshadowed those of his former Manchester United teammate during the group phase.

Ronaldo is also one of the few players at this tournament able to recall beating Spain in a major finals, having been a part of the Portugal team that defeated Spain on home soil during the group phase at Euro 2004.

It is the meeting between the two Iberian neighbors at the 2010 World Cup, though, that may be more insightful as to how the latest meeting in Donetsk will unfold. On that occasion Portugal sat back and posed Spain few problems as La Roja ran out far more comfortable winners that the 1-0 score line suggested.

While Portugal can excel on the counterattack, Spain will be all too happy to face another side that allows them near-total dominance over proceedings. Coach Vicente del Bosque has even admitted that he hopes the Portuguese play deep.

Spain will back themselves to win the vast majority of matches where they are allowed to dominate possession in the opposition's third of the field. The only team that attempted to disrupt that pattern so far at these finals has been Italy and they emerged with a much warranted 1-1 draw.

Del Bosque's eagerness to control the match against the threat on the break coupled with an expectation that Portugal's defense will sit deep, means that Cesc Fabregas is likely to get the nod in the false-nine role.

Portugal coach Paulo Bento will be forced to change his starting lineup for the first time this competition with Helder Postiga ruled out for the rest of the tournament with a hamstring injury. While the exciting 20-year-old Nelson Oliveira appeared as a substitute in all three group games, Bento is all but certain to go with the more experienced Hugo Almeida.


G: Rui Patricio

D: Pereira, Alves, Pepe, Coentrao

M: Moutinho, Veloso, Meireles

F: Nani, Almeida, Ronaldo


G: Casillas

D: Arbeloa, Ramos, Pique, Alba

M: Busquets, Alonso


F: Silva, Fabregas, Iniesta

Prediction: As much as Portugal will be buoyed by their growing form in the competition, they have continued to suggest that they feel much more comfortable dropping deep. Against Germany there was also an inference that an element of fear prevented them from emerging from their shell against such quality opposition.

If Portugal show a similar tendency against Spain, which seems likely given that the current Spanish side intimidate the opposition like few other in history, then they will find it very difficult to get any foothold in the match.

While Portugal can be a phenomenal threat on the break, Ronaldo needs support in order to do damage. Yet, it's hard to see Joao Moutinho, who has been the team's underrated star of the tournament, getting enough of the ball to allow his side to push forward.

Left isolated, Ronaldo could quite easily become frustrated as Spain's possession and the defensive-minded right-back Alvaro Arbeloa nullifies his threat.

Spain may find it difficult to break through a strong Portuguese defense, but eventually the goal will come. As Portugal try to force a belated comeback late on, don't be surprised if Spain adds another.

Portugal 0-2 Spain