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Euro 2012: Five talking points from Spain’s win over Portugal | Simon Burnton

27th June 2012

Spain were rattled by Portugal’s attacking approach but Cristiano Ronaldo was a disappointment, offering no cutting edge

1 Spain can be regal, but they can also be rattled

Spain’s modus operandi is familiar: hassle the opposition into giving them the ball and never give it back. Portugal might not have been able to outpass them, but they could certainly outhassle them and in the first half they did precisely that. But their ambitions were not limited to destruction: Nani started the game wonderfully on the right flank and Cristiano Ronaldo seemed full of dangerous intent on the other. When Portugal had the ball, even in their own half, they often had four men in attack: the two wingers, the striker Hugo Almeida and a supporting midfielder. The result in the Spanish ranks was frequently panic. In the first half Spain hit 29 long balls, one fewer than in the entire game against France; in the second half they hit 44, precisely as many as in the entire game against Italy. Only in extra time did they recover the style that they are used to, and that suits them so well.

2 Even Ronaldo cannot always be brilliant

Rarely can the award of a free-kick 35 yards from goal have induced such feverish excitement in a commentator as when Portugal attacked last night. Cristiano Ronaldo is a phenomenon, but perhaps too much is expected of him. But one disappointment last night was that the greatest individual player on the pitch could offer no cutting edge. He had seven shots in all, not one of them on target. In the final minute Portugal broke, four men against two defenders. Raul Meireles played the ball to Ronaldo – imperfectly, it must be said – and the stage was set. One flash of the left boot later, the ball flew 10 yards over the bar. Portugal were foolish to schedule him as their fifth penalty taker, but there is no guarantee that he would have scored.

3 Strikers can be highly overrated

Spain have been widely criticised during this tournament for their refusal to play a striker, yet nobody could say this tactic had been failing, so it was a surprise when Vicente del Bosque named Alvaro Negredo in his starting lineup. Negredo’s only previous appearance in this tournament had come as an 89th-minute substitute in a group game, and he had appeared only once in qualifying, and that against Luxembourg. This was a very different and considerably more testing encounter, and not only did he seem to have little idea what his job was, neither did his team-mates. They passed to him just 14 times, while he had one shot – not on target – and attempted no crosses. Nine minutes after half-time he was replaced with a midfielder and Spain’s improvement was immediate.

4 Referee guilty of double standards

On occasions the referee, Cuneyt Cakir, appeared to have something against Nani. In the 19th minute the winger ran down the right flank before cutting infield between Jordi Alba and Sergio Ramos, who appeared to impede him. Nani went down, a little easily, but the referee refused to whistle. Ten minutes later the same player produced an excellent turn on the half-way line to befuddle Alba and Xabi Alonso. This time he didn’t go down, and the referee did give a free-kick. The two decisions, coming so close to each other and involving the same key player, displayed an almost perverse inconsistency. His authority was not helped by a shower of second-half yellow cards – Cakir booked nobody in the first 40 minutes, and seven people in the following 45.

5 Empty seats prove there is a problem with pricing

In the run-up to kick-off rumours spread that hundreds of tickets had been given away locally. Even so the stadium was far from full, but perhaps it was no surprise: the average salary in Ukraine is £230, and cheapest tickets for last night’s match cost £36. The best seats, with a face value of £216, cost almost an entire month’s pay for the average salaried Ukrainian. to see Shakhtar Donetsk in the same stadium start at 20 hryvna, about £1.60, and nothing outside the corporate hospitality areas costs more than 90 hryvna (£7.15). It is all very well for Uefa and Fifa to bring major competitions to obscure locations, but their pricing must then reflect the regional realities. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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