by Christian Karembeu
It’s never easy to face a side where you know everyone and you’re used to playing with or against them every week. Tuesday evening’s Round-of-16 tie between Spain and Portugal was proof of that. The Spanish were up against one of the best players in the world in Cristiano Ronaldo, but he’s already spent a season in La Liga and they know all about him.
For all that, Spain looked very sure of themselves. They dominated the game and it was no surprise that they won. What's more they used their knowledge of their opponent’s main attacking weapon to perfection. I went through something similar whenever I played against Italy or Spain between 1998 and 2000.
Just because you have that knowledge doesn’t mean to say you’re going to get results. After all, the other side has it too. But you can definitely prepare better for a match when you know the strengths and weaknesses of certain players. The ones with the information share it with their team-mates, a little bit like a coach does, and there’s no doubt Spain made good use of what they know about Cristiano Ronaldo. Sergio Ramos was up against him and he knows more about him than anyone. Spain were aware of the danger he poses and they did what they had to to control and isolate him.
Portugal depend on their best player and they probably didn’t react too well to the situation. They seemed to rush things, trying to get the ball to Ronaldo instead of working as a team to make sure he got some quality possession. He can’t do everything on his own, though. Maybe they didn’t realise it but the Portuguese seemed to be hoping their star man could go and make the difference all on his own.
I’ve played alongside Zinedine Zidane and I know what it is to have an exceptional player in your team. We used to do things so Ziz could shine but Portugal couldn’t do what we did. Obviously, having a player like that in the team makes things easier, but if you want to be successful you need to have cohesion and the ability to get your biggest weapon operating in the best conditions. That’s what Portugal weren’t able to do.