Tick tock, tick tock. The sound of time running out for either Portugal or holders Spain at UEFA EURO 2012 – or the noise emanating from an explosive Cristiano Ronaldo, fused, primed and waiting to destroy La Roja's title defence?
For Vicente del Bosque, the prolific Real Madrid CF forward could prove an incendiary nightmare in Wednesday's semi-final. "We have to try to deactivate him," explained the Spain coach, displaying a keen feel for the perfect sound bite. The 61-year-old has genuine respect for the entire Portugal side – "a great team" – but the question of how to stop their re-energised No7 remains uppermost in Spanish minds.
"We have to take notice of Ronaldo," added Del Bosque, whose side downed France 2-0 in the last eight. "He's an excellent player and it's logical that there's so much talk about him." In truth, there was plenty of talk when Ronaldo was having a quiet tournament, but, after scoring all three of his team's goals in vital wins against the Netherlands and quarter-final opponents the Czech Republic, many are asking whether he can get his first against Spain in Donetsk.
Del Bosque is taking heart from silencing Ronaldo in South Africa, when Spain defeated their Iberian neighbours 1-0 in the round of 16 en route to FIFA World Cup glory. "We knew how to play against him and how to stop him and we'll try the same tomorrow," he said, before nonetheless insisting that "we don't want to look back" when reminded of his charges' 4-0 friendly loss in Lisbon just four months later.
Presumably, he is reading equally little into the fact Spain have never lost any of their four major semi-finals. Instead, Del Bosque maintained that he is focused on cultivating his own team's philosophy. "We will be ourselves," he said. "Of course, we have to pay attention to certain details, but it's important to play our game and develop our ideas."
Portugal coach Paulo Bento struck a similar note and would be fielding the same starting lineup for a seventh straight competitive game were it not for Hélder Postiga's thigh injury. Hugo Almeida will now lead the line as the Selecção das Quinas hunt a first ever victory against La Roja on foreign soil.
"We have ambition and courage," said Bento. "We know what we have to do. We have to put pressure on our opponents and our aim is not to defend all the time. We won't do that against the world and European champions. I think they know we can cause them problems."
They certainly did that at UEFA EURO 2004, inflicting Spain's most recent reverse in this tournament to knock them out in the group stage. Portugal's own campaign eventually ended with a showpiece defeat by Greece, and Bento wants to lead them to another final.
"There can't be any more beautiful opportunity than the one we have tomorrow. 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 championship." Back home, they will be hearing every second tick down until kick-off.
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