Spain defender Alvaro Arbeloa says he is psyching himself up “mentally and physically” to face Real Madrid team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo in the Euro 2012 semi-final against Portugal on Wednesday night.
With three goals in his last two matches, Ronaldo has emerged as one of the stand-out players at the tournament and Arbeloa will enter directly into his line of fire when the teams face off in Donetsk.
The 29-year-old right-back will be chiefly responsible for keeping Ronaldo in check at Donbass Arena, and he admitted he was not expecting an enjoyable evening.
“You have to be prepared mentally and physically, especially against someone like this,” Arbeloa said. “He’s one of the best players in the world. “It’s very demanding, physically and mentally. You have to be on top of your game.
“You can’t stop him for the whole 90 minutes, but it’s a great challenge for me. I like to measure myself against the best in the world. I haven’t spoken to him. I will probably speak to him tomorrow, when I see him, but we don’t know the starting line-ups yet.
“If I’m lucky, the coach (Vicente del Bosque) will put me there and I’ll play against him. We all know his level’s been very high at this Euro. He’s very difficult to play against and very confident, but we will try to stop him.”
Aside from Ronaldo, Arbeloa can also expect to come up against his other Madrid team-mates Pepe and Fabio Coentrao. Asked whether it will feel strange to find himself on the opposite side to his club-mates, Arbeloa said he would be too focused on helping Spain reach the final to notice.
“It’s the same as when you play for your club and you play against your mates from the national team,” he said. “Tomorrow I play for the national team, and I won’t be mates with my club-mates. It’s important to know who you play with and who you play against. I might talk to them during the game, but I’ll be fighting for us to get through to the final.”
Portugal are bidding to reach their first major final since they lost 1-0 to Greece as hosts at Euro 2004. And Ronaldo has dismissed talk that their Spanish rivals have reason to complain because they have two days less to recover.
“Three days rest is more than sufficient. The Spanish have commented that having two fewer days rest is a disadvantage, but as a professional I don’t think it’s important.
“You have to prepare for the match in the same way that we prepared for the others. We don’t have to do anything different. It will be a hard clash in which Portugal has to do very well to beat Spain.”
Ronaldo leads the scoring chart with three alongside Mario Gomez, Alan Dzagoev and Mario Mandzukic, but the latter two are already back home. “I knew the goals would come. It didn’t start very well, but with the sacrifices of my team-mates everything improved,” said Ronaldo.
Portugal: Helder Postiga has been ruled out for the Portuguese with a thigh injury which should open the door for Besiktas striker Hugo Almeida to lead the line. Almeida’s inclusion should be the only change made by Paulo Bento though.
Spain: With no fresh injury or suspension concerns Vicente Del Bosque must decide whether to stick with the strikerless side that beat France, or turn to the likes of Fernando Torres and Barcelona’s Pedro in order to freshen things up.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
It seems a long time ago that people were questioning whether Ronaldo could have an impact on Euro 2012. A brace against the Netherlands was followed by the winner against the Czechs and the semi-final is now being billed as the forward’s big moment.
Jordi Alba (Spain)
Another player off the La Masia production line, the full-back has enjoyed a stellar tournament and showed great awareness to tee up Xabi Alonso for Spain’s opener against France. Such form has led Barca to open talks to buy him back.
At the start of the tournament few would have given Portugal much hope of reaching the semis but three consecutive wins have seen them do just that. They have yet to be severely tested since their opening defeat to Germany, though, and Spain will provide a much sterner test than the Czechs in the quarters. Whatever their faults, the Spanish possess too much quality while the Portuguese again look light up front. Spain to go through, 2-1.