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Portugal's warning shot to mesmeric Spain

No player has had more shots at UEFA EURO 2012 than Cristiano Ronaldo. Next to try to tame the Portugal captain are Spain, who dominate the passing and possession statistics.

Cristiano Ronaldo scored twice against the Netherlands in the group stage
Cristiano Ronaldo scored twice against the Netherlands in the group stage ©Getty Images

When Portugal take on Spain in the first UEFA EURO 2012 semi-final, the tournament's most dangerous player will attempt to put one over the country in which he plays his club football.

Following another prolific campaign for Real Madrid CF, Cristiano Ronaldo has left his imprint on the finals in the Selecção's last two matches, scoring three goals in respective group stage and last-eight victories against the Netherlands and the Czech Republic.

While Spain's deployment of Cesc Fàbregas as a 'false nine' – ahead of orthodox forwards Fernando Llorente and Fernando Torres – continues to prompt debate, Ronaldo's barrage of shots from his position on the left of a Portuguese front three has been one of the most striking aspects of the championship so far.

Whether it is in the air or on the ground, the 27-year-old, influential in helping Paulo Bento's team defeat Spain 4-0 in a friendly 19 months ago, has been Portugal's principal threat. His 29 efforts on goal (four of which have hit the woodwork) in this edition is a record for a player in any EURO, while his 14 on-target strikes account for almost half of his side's sum total of 33.

Spain's tally of 44 shots on target, second to Italy's 50, is more evenly shared, yet Portugal are about more than just one man. Against the Czechs, they attempted 26 crosses from open play, more than any team has managed in a UEFA EURO 2012 fixture.

Nani, playing on the opposite flank to Ronaldo, is Portugal's main supply line. His 19 attempted deliveries is a figure unmatched in Poland–Ukraine and a number which may give Spain left-back Jordi Alba reason to consider suppressing his attacking instincts.

That Portugal (76) have sought to cross the ball more than twice as much as their Iberian rivals (37) is little surprise given the wide men at their disposal. Just as predictable, though, is La Roja's domination of the passing and possession statistics via their famed tiki-taka style.

Portugal's 1,164 completed passes pale in comparison with Spain's finals-leading 2,616, as does their average possession total per game of 46%. Central to Spain's 61% figure has been the midfield trio of Xavi Hernández, Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets, the first and last of those being part of what Sir Alex Ferguson famously called FC Barcelona's "passing carousel".

Such is Spain's supremacy in this department that six of the top ten players to have delivered the most passes at UEFA EURO 2012 are in Del Bosque's party: Xavi (371), Alonso (318), Busquets (300), Sergio Ramos (266), Alba (253) and Andrés Iniesta (240).