Just look at those line-ups: Spain have thrown in a striker! Is that them bowing to carping about them being boring? Not likely: the inclusion of Alvaro Negredo is more probably just them showing off how many fabulous players they have. It's bonkers to think that Fernando Llorente hasn't even featured yet in this tournament.
The best player on the pitch tonight, of course, could prove to be Cristiano Ronaldo. Opponents have been barracking him with taunts of "Messi, Messi" all tournament but this is Ronaldo's chance to emphatically step out of the Argentinian's shadow by confirming his all-conquering brilliance in a major international tournament, which Messi has yet to do (perhaps the mischievous imp thinks it would be fun to wait and do that in two years time in Brazil?). Ronaldo has been splendid in this competition so far, as have Moutinho, both Portugal's full backs and, to a slightly lesser extent, Nani. If Portugal get the ball tonight, they certainly have the wherewithal to ruffle the Spaniards. But will they get the ball? And where will they get it? Will they have the dynamism and gumption to press high up the way Italy did, or will they seek to lure Spain far forward before lashing out on the counter? We look forward to finding out. Me, I'm going for 2-1 to Portugal, with Raul Meireles, having had 1,375 sighters in the tournament so far, to finally find the net.
Perhaps we will also find out why of why Alvaro Negredo doesn't play in the Premier League? Is he, like Andrea Pirlo, what Phil Brown might describe as "homophobic"? Just imagine if this had come to pass.
Spain: Casillas, Arbeloa, Ramos, Pique, Alba, Busquets, Alonso, Xavi, Iniesta, Silva, Negredo
Portugal: Patrício; Pereira, Alves, Pepe, Coentrão; Veloso, Moutinho, Meireles; Nani, Ronaldo, Almeida
Here is an incredible stat brought to my attention by @tomEurosport. "Casillas will become the first ever player to win 100 international games if Spain get through tonight. From 136 matches." And I believe that across those 136 games he has to save upwards of 11 shots.
my piece on why Mozambicans are so keen on supporting the football team of their old coloniser (basically, it's because of the 60s and Eusebio). V grateful if you had a moment to check it out."Who are you supporting tonight and why? Elliot Ross has this interesting explanation of the allegiance of many Mozambiquans" "Thought you might be interested in featuring something from
"As a regulatory attorney in the States, I am settled in my office preparing to go through the painstaking process of reviewing countless tiny interactions that end up adding up to nothing of significance," chirps Graham G. Martin. You can see where this is going, can't you? "It is very frustrating knowing that the intransigent position of one side will only be matched by the ineffectiveness of the other only to be resolved by some arbitrary resolution system that has little to do with the merits of either side ... perhaps I shouldn't watch the match and do some work instead?"
this clip of Futre in action ... and, more amusingly, a rare and preposterous misjudgment by Peter Schmeichel for Futre's first goal.I see that former Atletico Madrid and Portugal winger Paolo Futre has tipped Ronaldo to inspire his homeland to victory tonight. I only mention that predictable prediction as an excuse to show
"In order to alleviate the mind numbing tedium of this ticky tocky style of football Fifa should introduce something called 'The Chopper Harris Rule'," belches Tom Shaw, who is clearly the man to lead England back to relevance on the international stage. "If after eight consecutive passes the ball ends up further back than when the move started an opposition player ought to be permitted a two footed lunge at anywhere up to knee height. Whether this is at the player on the ball or any random member of his team is one of the finer details that could be sorted out later. It would certainly make them get on with it."
Clack, clack, clack! Out march the teams into an arena that is far from full. Well done, price-setters! Still, perhaps that means more readers of this here MBM? What? Ah.
7.40pm: The camera lingers a little on Xabi Alonso during the Spanish anthem, perhaps taking in how that rakish beard makes him look like Andre Villas-Boas.
And during the Portuguese tune (an uplifting number, it must be said), the camera lingers on Ronaldo, who is belting it out good and proper, as if to ask "is there nothing he can't do? *Swoon*"
"I cannot help but wonder, if Ronaldo was offered to stand in front of the rest of his team during the national anthems, maybe on a little pedestal, would he refuse?" parps Omar Naboulsi.
First blood to Portugal as Ronaldo wins the toss. The man's on fire!
1 min: And they're off! Portugal win the ball off Spain immediately and begin knocking it around at a leisurely pace.
2 min: After good work by Nani, Veloso fires off the game's first shot, a 25-yarder blast that which ricochets off a Spaniard and goes behind for a corner. Veloso takes that too and it puts Casilla in plenty of bother, so he tips it behind for another corner. This one, however, comes to nought.
4 min: Hooooof! Casilla lumps on long. For Portugal that is sa triumph on a par with a butcher convincing a vegetarian to tuck into a bucket of pig's trotters.
5 min: Crafty play between Iniesta and Alba puts the left-back into a promising crossing position but he wastes Spain's first opportunity to threaten the goal.
7 min: Alonso tries to take Portugal by surprise by pinging a long pass towards Silva, but he slightly overhits it and it runs into Patricio's arms.
8 min: Spain are starting to find their groove but Portugal are pestering them vigorously.
9 min: Bad miss! Spain tip-toed their way into the box before Bruno Alves tried to nick the ball off Iniesta but it squirted into the path of Arbeloa who sidefooted it over the bar from 16 yards.
11 min: After an enterprising start by Portgual, the game has settled into the expected pattern, with Spain enjoying most of the possession. But not with the sort of time on the ball that Ireland and France, for example, gave them.
13 min: High-pitched squeals of rapture from certain sections of the crowd (the press box?) as Ronaldo goes on a gallop down the left, skinning two players before clipping a lovely cross into the danger zone. Casillas comes to clasp it well. "I can't believe no one's mentioned that, when Portugal got the cane out of the cupboard and gave Spain a 4-0 whipping, Ronaldo would've scored one of the best chips to ever grace the international football," recalls. Matt Dony. "Right up until Nani ambled along to head it in on the line, only to be flagged offside. Cue the look of death from Ronaldo. More of that, please. Top entertainment!" He's not wrong: check out the footage.
15 min: Ronaldo is becoming a major problem for Spain. Another burst down the left yields a freekick on the edge of the area after he was fouled by two. It was from an acute angle but that didn't stop You Know Who from attempting a shot .... which he blazed into the wall.
17 min: More pressure from Portugal produces a corner. Ramos heads it clear. But Spain are rattled. This is a proper contest. Great stuff.
19 min: After a Spanish attack breaks down, Nani tears forward before going down under a flimsy challenge by Ramos. The ref waves play on, to the consternation of the Portuguese bench. Well, the people on it, anyway. "Given all the stick Sxpain got, wy has no-one made a big deal of the fact that Portugal also hasn't played with a striker throughout this tournament?" quips M. Carpenter-Alvaro. This is your chance to make people gobble hats, Hugo Almeida.
22 min: Spain seek to regain their composure and put Portugal back in their box with some circuitous possession play. But Portugal put an end to that with a solid intervention.
23 min: Ronaldo has a pop from 25 yards. It was not top of the pops.
26 min: Portugal dispossess Spain high up the pitch and apply sterling pressure, which Spain deal with well. But they're being subjected to a serious interrogation here.
27 min: The ref again cops condemnations from the speaking Portuguese bench as he refuses to award a penalty after Ramos seemed to handle a cross. The replay showed the ref was perfectly correct: Ramos stopped it with his chest.
29 min: Portugal's frantic pressing is forcing Spain to play long. Thing is, Alonso is pretty handy at that and he pings a fine long-range pass to Negredo. Spain work the ball out to Iniesta, who drifts into the box and fires just over.
30 min: Absurd refereeing by Mr Cakir, who watches Nani trick his way past a Spaniard with a piece of wizardry that brings whoops from the crowd .... and then, as Nani, races towards the Spanish box, pulls Portugal back .... to give Nani a freekick!
31 min: Excellent pressing again by Portugal, as Moutinho wins the ball back deep in Spanish territory and then pokes it through to Ronaldo. Naturally, Ronaldo tries a shot. Hiw low 20-yard drive skims wide.
33 min: Spain aren't liking this one bit. Their passing is starting to deteriorate badly. Not quite to England levels, but badly. "How do you beat Spain?" asks Anthony O'Connell. "You attack the hell out of them, that's how!" Portugal certainly seem to be proving that. Except, of course, for the fact that they haven't actually scored yet.
36 min: Spain rumbled forward, but too slowly and too inaccurately and they soon lose possession again to the relentless Portuguese. "Football is a team game, but I feel this time the big difference between these Real and Barca copycats just might be the presence of Cristiano Ronaldo on one side and the lack of Messi on the other," reasons Michiel Jongsma. "There is way more directness and penetration to the Portuguese and I see them winning this to be honest."
38 min: Negredo isn't providing much of a focal point for Spain. Torres and even Fabregas were better at that. "Honestly given the high quality of football how on earth did england Expect to join these teams in the semis?" gasps Bruno Araujo. In fairness, I don't think they did expect that. They still had to try though. Yes, that really is what they were doing against Italy.
40 min: Ramos booked for a trademark infringement, blocking Ronaldo as he sought to sprint into position to receive a pass from nani as Portugal counter-attacked. The yellow card slate, by the way, was wiped clean after the quarter-final so that one won't rule Ramos out of the final. If Spain get there.
43 min: The match continues to intrigue. Goal attempts may be in short supply but this is a very high-quality and tense game that feels very close to detonating something truly special. "Nani's down again," growls Will Hayward. "He's had a good game so far, but do you get the feeling he'd last five seconds in rugby union with his theatrics of writhing agony? I'm not sure Bakkies Botha would stand for it." You might be right. But how long would Serena Williams last in fencing? To pose an equally relevant question.
45 min: Coentrao booked, seemingly for giving the ref some backchat.
Half-time: A fascinating half, and it will be interesting to see how Spain use thje break. Adjust their tactics or personnel? I'd bring on Fabregas and Llorente. Portugal, meanwhile, will presumably introduce Nelson Oliveira at some point, which will be intriguing: Almeida has done OK but Oliveira has a greater capacity to unhinge an already brittle-looking Spanish defence.
"So THAT'S what Spain looks like when they don't have the ball 70% of the time," gollies Rob McClean. "Normal. A bit scared. And wasteful. But when you think of it, they always need 20 chances for 2 goals. We just get carried away by all the possession they have in the meantime. They can also all, like, dribble the hell out of the ball."
"Is it just me, or do Spain look like they don't really want to be there?" asks Andrew Enloe. "I'm probably being harsh on them, but they look just a bit annoyed that they don't get to pass the ball around at will." They do look rattled. But they also look a little jaded, which is another reason why changes are needed.
46 min: Spain are back on the pitch but still no sign of Portugal, who are intent on rattling them ever further by making them wait.
46 min: No substitutions during the break.
47 min: A slow start to the second half. Perk up, lads!
48 min: Spain stroke t he ball about as if stroking themselves. No great urgency. "I don't know why people are complaining about the way Spain plays," blurts Jason Graff. "I simply turned my TV on its side and they look a constant threat. When they link three or four sideways passes together, my pulse begins pounding."
50 min: Spain appear to be tryign to tire Portugal out, possibly in the belief that their opponents can't chase them for the entire second half and will eventually crack. So they're knocking the ball around with no obvious threat to move towards goal. Swathes of the ground are booing and whistling indignantly.
51 min: Spain finally decide to gesture at a threat, as Arbeloa hoiks in a manacing cross. Alves nods it behind for a corner.
53 min: Alves pings a fine diagonal ball and Portugal attack with much more speed and directness than Spain. A corner is their only reward and Ronaldo wastes it.
54 min: Inevitable Spanish change: Negredo off, Fabregas on. "On the same noteas mentioned previously, I wonder how Kevin Pietersen or Sachin Tendulkar would do at Baseball? "honks Kannon Gokul. "It is just hitting the ball randomly, isn't it?"
56 min: Tremendous work by Coentrao to win a corner for Portugal. Nani's delivery, however, was wretched.
57 min: No, no, no! Portugal had a 3 v 3 attack. Almeida had the ball, with Ronaldo to his right and Nani to his left. So what does he do? He attempts to whack the ball into the top corner from 25 yards! With predictable consequences. If either of these sides had a striker, this game would have been far better.
59 min: Ronaldo slips the ball through to Almeida and sprints into position to receive it back ... but it doesn't come, as Almeida tries another wildly ambitious shot. Time to bring on Oliveira.
60 min: Ronaldo surges down the right and into the box before collapsing in the vicinity of Ramos. Busquets seemingly complains that the Portuguese dived, and is duly booked for his brazenness.
61 min: Pepe booked for a perfectly valid challenge on Alonso. This ref has been plod. And so has Silva, which is why he is now being replaced by Jesus Navas.
63 min: Ramos rushes across to help out Alba after the winger threatened to get to the by-line.
65 min: Fabregas lays it off to Iniesta and then dashes into the box in search of the return, which he can't get because Pereira pulls him down. Freekick to Spain at the corner of the box. Xavi curls it in. Almeida heads it wide. Which he's quite good at.
67 min: Alonso tries to enliven proceedings with a shot from 50 yards. Wide it goes. "Portugal won't get tired," hammers Adam Hirst. "They're running around all the time. Everyone knows that standing on the edge of your own area in the Two Banks of Four is far more tiring. Takes more concentration see. How else can you explain the Best Midfielder in the World getting cramp after 55 minutes?"
68 min: Xavi skips clear from Meireles in midfield and ventures towards the box, before shooting from 25 yards. Easy save for the keeper.
69 min: Another ridiculous shot by Almeida, who ignores Nani to his right to boom the ball wide from a silly angle.
71 min: Almeida is more useful at his own end of the pitch that in attack. he's just backtracked diligently to intercept an Alonso pass and nod it back to his keeper.
72 min: Busquets does the Ramos: deliberately blocking Ronaldo's run while making out that he is trying to get out of the way. The ref isn't fooled and awards Portugal a freekick. There is not a hope in hell of Ronaldo doing anything other than shooting from 28 yards.
73 min: It's a reasonable effort from Ronaldo but it ever looked like going in. A couple of yards over.
75 min: It's a fine line between intriguing and irritating. This match is starting to edge towardas the latter now. "This is putting me to sleep," yawns John Abbate. "I thought nothing could be more of a bore than tiki-taka, but I was mistaken: failed tiki-taka is far more of a snooze. Here's hoping for one quick successful CR7/Nani counter attack so we can call it a night."
77 min: After a Portugal corner comes to nothing, Bruno Alves fouls Fabregas upfield and Spaniards surround the ref to whinge. "This is turning into a series of community theatre actors trying to one-up each other," grumbles Harry Brammer.
79 min: Good news! Nelson Oliveira looks set to come on. "It's a measure of something when Radio 5 cuts to Wimbledon coverage for excitement..." screams Harry Rawlings
81 minutes later than appropraite: Oliveira replaces Almeida.
82 min: By the way, Holland manager Bert van Marwijk has just resigned. Schteve McClaren must be a Schoo-in.
83 min: Another freekick for Portugal as Alonso hacks down Ronaldo. Cue the Jonny Wilkinsonish routine and ...
84 min: ... as shot into the wall, where Arbeloa handles it and is booked. So Portugal now have a freekick 10 yards closer, ie about 22 yards from goal.
85 min: Bad freekick from Ronaldo. Any chance he'll give someone else a go next time? Someone who doesn't train with Casillas every day? Not that Casillas has had to do anything with the freekicks so far.
86 min: Alves becomes the latest player to be booked, for a late tackle on Fabregas. Portugal's entire back four are now on yellow cards.
87 min: Here's a testament to how well Portugal have neutralised Spain's habitual linkman: Xavi is being replaced by Pedro.
89 min: More and more fouls littering this increasingly tense and tetchy game.
90 min: Ohhhhhhhh!! Portugal mounted a terrific counter after a Spain freekick came to nothing. But after Meireles slipped in Ronaldo for his clearest opening of the game, the Not-Messi smashed it high and wide! And oh, how the Spanish fans behind the goal laughed!
90+2 min: Spain corner. Last chance to prevent extra-time. Alonso overhits it.
90+3 min: Veloso booked for a late tackle on Alba, and that is the last act of normal time, suitably summing up the second half.
ET 1: Navas gets extra-time off to a promising start with a bold run down the right, culminating in a vicious cross that Portugal do well to clear.
ET 3 min: "What on earth is going on?" fumes JR. "Since the end of the second round of the group stage it's almost as if each game has been worse than the one before. This game literally stinks." I blame Spain: all that talent and they still can't bring themselves to take risks.
ET 4 min: Spain are getting more possession not yet threatening. "Did Spain just defend from a corner kick to avoid being exposed to another counter? Ok, Football can officially end." mourns Sandile Xaso of an incident a few minutes ago but whose email I've only seen now.
ET 5 min: Iniesta goes down as if slashes with a butcher's hook, when in fact Moutinho won the ball of him fair and square. But the increasingly annoying ref awards a free to Spain.
ET 6 min: A shot! An actual shot from Spain! OK, it didn't make it as far as the goal - because Alves blocked it around the penalty spot - but this is progress. It was Pedro who set the chance up, following some hiterto-lacking enterprise down the left.
ET 8 min: Pedro is down in need ot treatment after being fairly clattered by Pepe while challenging for a header. Might as well just go straight to penalties once he gets up.
ET 11 min: Corner to Spain, who have enjoyed t he lion's share of possession in this half. They take to corner short to Navas, who wins another. Fabregas takes it short again, this time to Iniesta, who loses possession, allowing Portugal to launch a counterattack, which Arbeloa does well to snuff out.
ET 13 min: Great save by Patricio! After fine, bold interplay by Spain, the ball was cut back by Alba from the byline to Iniesta, who had surged from deep to meet it 10 yards out. But the keeper pushes his first-time shot around the post!
ET 15 min: Pepe brings down Navas, who, along with Pedro, has made a difference to this game. Freekick from 25 yards or thereabouts. Ramos whacks a decent effort inches over.
Half-time in extra-time: Portugal have two substitution left and will surely make them as several of their players are looking tired and Spain are starting to find space. "My little brother (14), not a football fan, says about Spains tiki taka: 'it's like watching pass the parcel when no one opens the parcel!" exclaims Nick Lopez Green.
ET 16 min: Portugal change: Veloso off, Custodio on.
ET 17 min: Portugal's high-pressing subsided in the first half of extra-time but Coentrao jsut found renewed energy to rob Fabregas deep in Spanish territory and hurtle down the wing before delivering a good cross. Piqué just beat Ronaldo to it.
ET 18 min: One of the best players in the world reacts to being beaten in a muscular challenge for the ball by tumbling to the ground and rolling around. Oh Ronaldo!
ET 21 min: Smart work by Alba and Navas down the left before the latter lashes a low shot at goal from 10 yards. Patricio parries and Pepe nudges it back to the keeper before Fabregas can pounce on the rebound. "Spain has perfected the catenaccio, Brazilian-style," quips David Lizoain.
ET 23 min: Varela, who looked well nifty when he came off the bench to score the winner against Denmark earlier in this tournament, replaces Meireles. "Tell Nick Lopez Green's brother to watch England." suggests Ben Dunn. "It's like pass-the-parcel without the passing or indeed the parcel."
24 min: Spain produce their familiar trick of fouling to interrupt a counter-attack. But they're clever enough to rotate the perpetrators to avoid a red card. Alonso gets the booking this time.
25 min: Lovely work by Fabregas to win the ball in midfield and flip it through to Pedro, who has a free run on goal from 40 yards. But the defenders catch up with him as he reaches the box and Coetrao pumps the ball out to safety.
ET 26 min: This game is trickling towards a shootout. "If it goes to penalties, who'll screw up the Panenka?" wonders Rodney Harper. "I've got 50 bucks on Nani." Are we optimsitic enough to think that all 10 designated takers will actually go for goal during the shoot-out?
ET 29 min: Great run by Pedro, who has brought a pleasing directness to Spain's play. He wriggled past two players in the box before directness abanadoned him and, rather than shoot, he tried to pass to a team-mate. It was intercepted.
End of extra-time: Spain were the better side in extra-time, when Portugal clung on. Pedro and Navas made a big difference, bringing width, speed and directness. But it was too late and so we have a shootout.
Shootout omens: Casillas hasn't had much to do so far tonight, whereas Patricio gfot a chance to limber up with some stops in extra-time. Portugal to triumph, then. Iniesta to miss. He's looked a tad off tonight.
On twitter, Peter Schmeichel previews the shootout thus: "You can study as much as you like, but takers rarely put it in the same place. Good takes do different things every time."
Alonso hammers a low shot to the keeper's left but Patricios saves superbly! Spain 0-0 Portugal.
Moutinho takes an odd baby-steps run-up and then taps it to the keeper's right ... and Casillas emulates his counterpart! Spain 0-0 Portugal.
Iniesta rolls it down the middle as Patricio dives to the corner, confounding another prediction. Spain 1-0 Portugal.
Pepe takes a run-up as if he's preparing for a long jump and then places a lovely low kick past Casillas's dive and into the bottom corner. Spain 1-1 Portugal.
Piqué tonks it into the bottom corner. Spain 2-1 Portugal.
Nani. Alves started to walk towards the ball but Nani ordered him back ... and then smacked a textbook penalty into the top corner. Spain 2-2 Portugal.
Ramos does the Panenka! Patricio buys it. Spain 3-2 Portugal.
Alves, his turn apparently having come, crashes a powerful shot against the bar. Spain 3-2 Portugal.
Fabregas sends it past Patricio and in off the post! Spain 4-2 Portugal. Spain are through to the final. And Ronaldo didn't even get to take a kick (for presumably he was designated to take the glorious fifth).
Full-time: "Spain are like rivers." sums up Barry Praag. "For as Winnie the Pooh said: 'Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day'".