Somewhere in Toronto, and probably in Montreal and Vancouver, there are people holding the firm, emphatic belief that Portugal will beat Spain to reach the Final of this Euro 2012.
Sorry, but that it nonsense.
The semi-final between Portugal and Spain will be a fine game, no doubt about it. An Iberian super-classico. An intriguing exercise in smothering Cristiano Ronaldo. Another master class in possession soccer by Spain. Another massive disappointment for Portugal.
Spain has heard all about it. Heard all about this being Ronaldo's tournament. They do, after all, know the guy rather well.
If the teams for Wednesday's semi-final are selected as expected, there will be seven Real Madrid players on the field, three playing for Portugal, as well as five Barcelona players. In Madrid, they have come to think of Ronaldo as the magician who finally annihilates the spell that Barcelona has cast over Spanish and world soccer, with its tiki-taki game of ceaseless possession, slow movement forward and exhaustion of the opposition.
Ronaldo has achieved that for Real Madrid, but only in the context of playing with the cream of European soccer. Elegant as he may be – playing for Portugal with Chelsea's Raul Meireles, Porto's João Moutinho and Genoa's Miguel Veloso – Portugal is not at the level of Real or Barcelona.
In official statements, Spain's manager Vicente del Bosque, and certain players, have given Ronaldo credit for his scene-stealing performances so far. This is a grave courtesy, and one due to a La Liga superstar. But the sound of Spanish cackling is probably rising from inside the Spanish training camp in Gniewino, in the north of Poland, and from inside the plane as it carries the Spanish team to Donetsk here in Ukraine for Wednesday's semi-final.
Whatever remarks are made in Spanish they probably amount to this in English: "He can't score if he doesn't have the ball."
This is Spain's tactic and it has been for years. Portugal, on the strength of Ronaldo's new commitment to his home country team, may have added to the sizzle of this tournament. But let's be clear – Portugal has won nothing. Spain stands as reigning champions of Europe and the world. Spain does not need to smother Cristiano Ronaldo, as the Czech Republic attempted, sometimes surrounding him with five players to prevent his exquisite movement. With its inimitable, packed midfield and continuous passing game of triangular movement – a Spanish player always, always has two passing options when holding the ball – the team just deprives the opposition of possession.
There is no need to hack at Ronaldo, to whip his legs from under him. Such callousness is unnecessary if he cannot have the ball at his feet.
There are many reasons for Spain's current dominant position in world soccer. One reason is the late Europeanization of Spanish soccer. Until a few years, Spain shared with England the curious status of fielding a national team made up entirely of players who toiled in their home country. Spanish managers taking club jobs in other countries and bringing Spanish players with them, changed this. Certain Spanish players have been educated and toughened by playing in England, Germany and Italy.
That toughening was an ingredient in Spain's long-awaited triumph at Euro 2008. Simultaneously, the Barcelona orthodoxy of near permanent possession of the ball took hold of the national team. It brought Spain a Euro and then a World Cup, but oddly, that winning tactic is now criticized as "boring."
There is a vaguely comical element to this criticism, especially as it has come mainly from the English and Italian media. Various English outlets have openly dismissed Spain as a boring team, picking up on the reaction of readers to watching Spain play on TV. And in Italy, the national daily La Repubblica pronounced, after Spain's victory over France, "Good, superb and unbeatable, but the champions are a bore." Coming from the country of "catenaccio," a tactical system of defence based on obliterating the opposition's ability to attack, this borders on the hilarious.
And yet the "boring" thing has taken hold. As if Spain's style was to be taken entirely in the context of TV entertainment. As if by declaring it "boring" the key to defeating it had been achieved.
The opposite of boring is exciting and Ronaldo is that. But the idea that he can defeat Spain, with the enthusiastic backing of a few colleagues, is delusional. He cannot do much if he is denied possession, and that is what Spain ensures and how it wins.
Perhaps one team can defeat Spain at this. That's Germany in the final. Not Portugal in the semi-final. Sorry Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.