Set to take centre stage in Cape Town on 29 June is a glittering Round of 16 clash between two neighbours and contenders for the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ crown: Spain and Portugal. Standing second and third respectively in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, the eagerly anticipated encounter between the Iberian duo at the Green Point Stadium is the sides’ first meeting at world football’s top table.
Expectations are extremely high ahead of the last-16 meeting between two teams considered among the pre-tournament contenders for the coveted Trophy. And with La Roja and A Selecção das Quinas both having had to come through a gruelling group phase, one of the fancied pair will be heading home much earlier than expected.
European champions Spain arrived at South Africa 2010 as firm favourites for the world title along with Brazil, though Vicente del Bosque’s team were given a harsh wake-up call in an opening 1-0 defeat against Switzerland. Showing their mettle, La Selección gritted their teeth and won their next two Group H games against Honduras and Chile to qualify in top spot in their section and avoid a last-16 meeting with Dunga’s charges.
Portugal, for their part, safely negotiated a fiercely competitive Group G also containing Côte d’Ivoire, Korea DPR and Brazil. Carlos Queiroz’s solid side played out a goalless opening draw with Didier Drogba and Co before cutting loose in a 7-0 success over the North Koreans. Following that goalfest, another scoreless draw in their final game against the five-time world champions was enough to secure second spot and a place in the knockout stages.
Both coaches have near-to-full-strength squads from which to choose, though former Real Madrid boss Del Bosque will be without key midfielder Xabi Alonso and defender Raul Albiol. Opposite number Queiroz, who also once held the reins at Los Merengues, welcomes back midfield schemer Deco though cannot call upon the versatile Ruben Amorim.
Players to watch
David Villa v Cristiano Ronaldo
The Spanish striker’s three-goal haul so far at South Africa 2010 has taken his tally at FIFA World Cups to six in total, making Barcelona’s new signing his country’s highest ever scorer in the competition. The flying Portuguese winger, for his part, has struck just once to date in South Africa despite claiming the Budweiser Man of the Match award in each of his side’s three matches. The Real Madrid forward needed a total of 17 shots to score his solitary goal, which came in the demolition of Korea DPR, though Ronaldo can count himself unfortunate to have been denied by the woodwork on two occasions already.
33 – The Cape Town clash will be the two teams’ first meeting at a FIFA World Cup, but the pair share a lengthy footballing history featuring no fewer than 32 previous matches. Spain have the edge with 15 wins to just five victories for Portugal, though the latter are unbeaten in the duo’s matches at continental finals: drawing 1-1 at the 1984 UEFA European Championship and winning 1-0 at the 2004 edition of the same competition.
What they said
"Portugal are a great team and they’re about more than just Cristiano Ronaldo. Yes it’s true that Cristiano is one of their best players, but we mustn’t forget that the Portuguese are the only team that still haven’t conceded a goal at this World Cup. That proves that they’re a solid unit and not just a collection of individuals. Their game is based around defensive solidity, pace and counter-attacking, as well as having very skilful players. I foresee a very difficult game, like they all will be for the rest of the competition. Only the best teams are left in it now," Vicente del Bosque, Spain coach.
"We’re ready to take on anybody. We’ve already played in critical games during qualifying and now we have another all-or-nothing match at a World Cup. That’s why we’re ready to give everything we’ve got on the pitch with only one aim in mind: staying in the World Cup. Portugal’s best is still to come," Carlos Queiroz, Portugal coach.
Voice of the fans
"Congratulations to Spain, who are the reigning European champions and difficult opponents for anybody! We’ve just played against one brother in Brazil and now we’re up against another. Spain have got a comfortably better historical record, though things have been more even recently! I’m very proud to be Portuguese and I have a lot of regard and respect for Spain. Let the best team win. Come on Os Navegadores! We’ll support you to the end!" Canhirix, FIFA.com user (Portugal).
Have your say
Will Fernando Torres finally get off the mark here at South Africa 2010? Or, come the final whistle, will Eduardo still be the only No1 yet to have conceded a goal at the tournament?