GNIEWINO, Poland — Spain didn’t alter its playing style to win its recent titles, and it won’t start now just because it’s coming up against Cristiano Ronaldo.
Portugal will be counting on Ronaldo in Wednesday’s European Championship semifinal against the defending champions, a second Iberian derby in as many tournaments after Spain beat its neighbor on its way to a World Cup triumph in 2010.
Eight Real Madrid players are spread across the Iberian rivals, making the teams privy to a fair degree of inside knowledge about each other.
Even so, the title holders made it clear Monday they are not preparing major changes just to take account of Ronaldo.
“We’ve got nothing planned, we’ll play the same way regardless of the rival,” said Spain midfielder Xabi Alonso, who was involved in many of Ronaldo’s 60 goals for Madrid last season. “We can make small adjustments, sure, play him close and keep him from finding space, but playing as a team is the best way to stop any player.”
Ronaldo finally has found his club form with Portugal at Euro 2012, scoring three goals in successive victories over the Netherlands and the Czech Republic.
Two years after Spain beat Portugal 1-0 in the second round of the World Cup, Wednesday’s game in Donetsk, Ukraine, certainly has the feel of a Spanish league rivalry.
Spain’s passing and possession game mirrors that of Barcelona, while Portugal’s counterattacks are more akin to Real Madrid’s playing style under its Portuguese coach, Jose Mourinho.
However, Spain’s players weren’t susceptible to generalizations going into what will probably be their most difficult match since an opening 1-1 draw with fellow semifinalist Italy at the group stage.
“Portugal uses a different system to Real Madrid, but it is true that one of its strongest points is the counterattack,” forward Cesc Fabregas said Monday. “And they’re also a team with capabilities of possession through the likes of [Joan] Moutinho and [Raul] Meireles. If I was the coach and I had the punch of Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani on the wings, I’d also play that way.”
Fabregas is enjoying his most prominent tournament yet with Spain, where he has normally been stuck on the substitutes bench behind Xavi Hernandez. But striker David Villa’s absence due to injury has forced coach Vicente del Bosque to change his formation, and Fabregas was the perfect candidate for the roving center forward spot that he sometimes occupies at Barcelona.
Though Portugal has Ronaldo, don’t call Fabregas Spain’s answer to Lionel Messi of Barcelona.
“I’ll never compare myself to Messi, that would be a joke,” said Fabregas, who has scored two goals, at the team’s training base in northern Poland. “I don’t think we should even mention Messi’s name in this case since he’s not here, and he’s a very different player to me. He’s the best player in the history of football. I’m enjoying this role and the liberty it gives me, I just try to do what the coach asks of me.”
Spain’s players said the death of former Liverpool and Real Betis player Miki Roque from cancer Sunday had provided an extra inspiration for retaining its trophy, especially as it comes shortly after the death of Spanish coach Manolo Preciado.
“There were already many reasons to win this European Championship and to lose two people who were such a part of Spanish football provides further motivation,” Fabregas said.
Alonso said the players were recovering well following Saturday’s 2-0 quarterfinal victory over France at Donetsk’s Donbass Arena, where it plays Portugal with 48 hours less recuperation time than its opponent.
“That can’t be an excuse, it’s something we just have to deal with,” Alonso said.
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