Portugal coach hopes team will take fight to Spain
DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) -Portugal coach Paulo Bento hopes his team will take the fight to Spain and impose its own way of playing in Wednesday's European Championship semifinals.
Spain is favored to reach its third consecutive major tournament final, and few teams have dared to attack the defending champions for fear of being cut to shreds on the break.
But Bento thinks Portugal has enough ability to give Spain plenty to worry about.
"There are some points in their game that are not so stable. They had some problems against Italy and Croatia, even in the quarterfinal against France, they didn't create too many clear chances,'' Bento said Tuesday through an interpreter. "But we're not inspired by what the others did against Spain, but what we did against other teams. We have our own identity.''
Portugal needed a late header from Cristiano Ronaldo to get the better of a battling Czech Republic side in the quarterfinal, but the scoreline could have been much greater if not for an inspired performance by goalkeeper Peter Cech, coupled with some careless finishing.
"Our aim is not to defend all the time. We won't do that, we are aware it's going to be difficult, but the others also know we can cause them a lot of problems,'' Bento said. "There can't be any more beautiful opportunity than the one we will have tomorrow. We won't have any anxiety, we are aware of the opportunity that we have for all the Portuguese people.''
With Ronaldo in menacing form, Bento's team has a menacing look on the counterattack.
"Ronaldo is in the dynamic of our national team, he is making a lot of effort in this tournament,'' Bento said. "The only game we didn't score in was against Germany and we had a lot of opportunities. I'm very confident because we've played with a lot of heart and courage. I think tomorrow's going to be another emotional day.''
Ronaldo has stepped up when it matters, scoring three goals in the last two games to move Portugal within touching distance of its first final since Euro 2004, where it lost on home soil to outsider Greece.
"I'm very proud to play alongside one of the best players in the world,'' said Hugo Almeida, who replaces the injured Helder Postiga in attack. "He has a great personality, and I'm sure he will try and do everything to lead Portugal to the final.''
Spain beat Portugal 1-0 in an ill-tempered match in the second round of the 2010 World Cup, but a few months later Portugal got a modicum of revenge by beating the Spanish 4-0 in a friendly.
"We don't look at the past,'' Bento said. "It doesn't matter if we won 4-0.''
Portugal is two wins away from winning its first ever major tournament.
"We believe as a country and as a national team that we can reach the final,'' Bento said. "I have absolutely no doubt we can get possession of the ball ... we have the ambition, we have courage. It's going to be about patience, we know what we have to do.''
Bento is so confident of an upset that he brushed aside questions of whether Spain will play with Fernando Torres in a classic center forward's role, or with Cesc Fabregas as a roaming forward.
"Our strategy in defense is already defined. It doesn't matter if Fabregas plays as a No. 9,'' Bento said. "They will always play in the last third of the field, they are very strong when they lose the ball and that's why they are a quality team.''