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Robbie Fowler: If Ronaldo doesn’t perform, Portugal will lose

by Aidan Elder | June 27, 2012

Robbie Fowler column

I know it sounds stupid, but Portugal are playing the better football at the moment. When Cristiano Ronaldo is in full flow, they’re almost unstoppable. In the last couple of game, Ronaldo has been different class and it’s translated into some very good performances from the team. He’s been the standout performer at Euro 2012. With his pace and strength, he scares defenders. Every time he gets the ball you expect something to happen, regardless of the opponent.

The Spanish defenders aren’t going to be as accommodating as some of the defenders he has come up against so far. They know him inside out – in some cases as a team-mate and in others as regular rival. But that works both ways. They might think they know what he’s going to do, but equally he’ll know what Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique struggle with and attack that aspect of their games.

There’s no doubt that Ronaldo is a selfish player, but you can’t knock him for that. It’s part of the reason why he’s such a good player. The managers he’s had have recognised that and allowed him to get away with it. They can set up their teams to compensate for any mistakes he makes and it’s worth doing because he is that good.

To be honest, I feel a bit sorry for him just because Lionel Messi is so good. Messi gets all the plaudits and Ronaldo gets far less recognition, even though he’s right up there in terms of talent. Outside the game, Ronaldo is a handsome man and a marketing dream and sometimes people mistake that with cockiness. Sometimes, the best players need to be cocky. It’s hard to criticise him for it because he always backs it up on the pitch.

The Spanish manager, Vicente Del Bosque has said he plans to stop Ronaldo “with a lasso”, but I’ve got feeling his game plan will revolve around stopping the ball getting to Ronaldo rather than Ronaldo himself. If they manage to cut off the supply to him, I can’t see anything else other than a Spanish win. They work so hard to get the ball back, they could easily stop the ball getting to him.

Spain are claiming a lot of possession, but when it comes to creating chances, they haven’t been great at this tournament. When it comes to creating scoring opportunities, Portugal have been better. Spain again went without a striker against France. I’m not a fan of that, but it’s worked and you feel a bit stupid arguing against it when it’s doing the job.

When you have a player not used to playing the striker role, they tend to come deep looking for the ball. Sometimes it makes the midfield very packed and actually clogs up Spain’s flowing football. You need the forwards to stretch your opponents and make the pitch bigger. If they play Cesc Fabregas up front, he will drop deep and it could turn the game into a bit of a midfield battle.

It’s a local derby, but I’ve also fancied Spain to do well at the tournament and they’ll be too strong for Portugal. If Ronaldo doesn’t have a good game, then Portugal don’t have a good game. Nani plays in fits and starts and Meireles has shown he’s a classy player, but it’s not going to be enough against this Spanish side. I’d expect both teams to score, so I’d look at a 2-1 Spain correct score bet.

As for a goalscorer, I’d go for a Spanish player, but I couldn’t pick one. Del Bosque said the Spanish plan was to have each one of his front six contribute a goal or two over the course of the tournament and that’s how it’s working out. I’m struggling to pick out any individual, but Spain will score first.

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