June 26, 2012
Ronaldo at centre of Iberian rivalry
By MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency
DONETSK, UKRAINE - It's like having a big brother who constantly teases you, hides your stuff and makes your life so uncomfortable that all you can think about is revenge.
Such is Portugal's feeling toward its eastern neighbour on the Iberian Penninsula.
The Spanish side has been like an irritating elder sibling to Portugal for years, flashing championship bling -- the World Cup 2010 and Euro 2008 titles -- in front of the Portuguese people as if it was sticking out its tongue and mockingly saying "Nah nah nah nah nah nah."
Of course, when the best player on the pitch -- and, maybe the world -- has suddenly found his groove to the point where he can make you pay for those dastardly taunts, well, some would say the scales have been balanced thanks to Christiano Ronaldo.
Spanish manager Vicente del Bosque is all too aware of the percolating nightmare in cleats that is Ronaldo. He told the world as much Tuesday, claiming that "we have to try to deactivate him" in Wednesday's semifinal showdown between these two bitter foes at Donbass Arena in Donetsk.
Just how does Del Bosque plan on doing that?
Grease up the ball, perhaps, with Ronaldo's hair product?
How about inviting Ronaldo's arch enemy, Lionel Messi, to stand on the Spanish sideline to enrage and distract him?
Surely the sight of the Barcelona star would get Ronaldo out of sorts, wouldn't it?
Of course, these are ideas more likely to be kicked around by the juiced up, yet friendly, Spanish fans who wandered the streets of Donetsk deep into the Ukrainian night Tuesday, bellowing off-key chants of "Ole, ole ole ole."
Count on Del Bosque to have something far more logical up his sleeve. And, no, we're not talking about a chunk of kryptonite that he might chuck at the feet of the Superman of Portuguese soccer.
"We have to take notice of Ronaldo," Del Bosque said. "He's an excellent player and it's logical that there's so much talk about him."
Two years ago in South Africa, the Spanish suffocated Ronaldo en route to defeating the Portuguese 1-0 in the knockout round of the World Cup. An immature Ronaldo was so flabbergasted at how the Spaniards so completely neutralized him, his frustrations boiled over after the final whistle when he launched a wad of gob in the direction of a television cameraman.
"We knew how to play against him and how to stop him and we'll try the same on Wednesday," Del Bosque said.
Portuguese fans are quick to point out that, a handful of months after the World Cup had been completed, their heroes inflicted a 4-0 beating on the Spanish in a so-called friendly.
That's the problem for Ronaldo and Co. That match didn't count. Because when they do, the Spanish step up their game. All the good teams do.
Look at Germany. Die Mannschaft was drubbed 5-3 in its final warmup game for Euro 2012 by Switzerland, a side that didnt even qualify for the tournament.
Once the bullets started flying for real (maybe that's not the best phrase to use here, given some of the fan violence that plagued this tournament in its early stages), it's been a different German squad, one that has won four consecutive matches at Euro 2012.
The same is true of Spain. When its time to hit the gas pedal, the Spanish take no prisoners.
At the same time, a victory for the Portuguese would be huge for the pysche of the entire nation. And manager Paulo Bento knows it.
"There can't be any more beautiful opportunity than the one we'll have (Wednesday)," Bento said. "We could reach the second final in our history and we're all conscious of that.
"We're aware of our responsibility to the Portuguese people to continue in this tournament."
A responsibility that includes finally smacking a smirking big brother who has been a thorn in their side for years.