View from Spain: Mourinho hopes to avoid Portugal-Spain punch-up
As a proud Portuguese patriot, JosÃÂ© Mourinho's finest achievement so far at the Bernabeu may be the apparent damage he's done to Spanish team morale and unity.
Barcelona and Real Madrid have never been bosom buddies, but Mourinho has urged his capital-city players to adopt a far more hands-on (and studs-on) approach during the many, many, many, many ClÃÂ¡sicos Ã¢ÂÂ and on the rare occasions when the country's big two aren't facing each other, they've been knifing each other in the back.
In 127 games of near-constant name-calling and eye-poking has inevitably produced a certain amount of tension in the Spanish camp Ã¢ÂÂ despite the best efforts of Iker Casillas and Xavi HernÃÂ¡ndez to get everyone together singing songs and toasting marshmallows around la RojaÃ¢ÂÂs campfire.
What poor old Vicente del Bosque has had to put up with of late might also rebound on Mourinho next season. WednesdayÃ¢ÂÂs clash between Spain and Portugal almost amounts to a Real Madrid civil war, with seven starting players drawing cutlasses and boarding each otherÃ¢ÂÂs boats.
The clubmate clash that has naturally attracted most attention in Spain is that of Cristiano Ronaldo trying to breach the Real Madrid rearguard of Alvaro Arbeloa, Sergio Ramos and Iker Casillas in what could be a very tasty contest indeed. Ã¢ÂÂIn the end, each of us has to defend their national side and here there are no club teammates. They will all be enemies,Ã¢ÂÂ warns Arbeloa.
We might also be blessed with the sight of Pepe trying to chop down Xabi AlonsoÃ¢ÂÂs fancy passes, although Fabio Coentrao will probably try to stay out of trouble, considering the Portuguese left-back still has the newbie tag in the Spanish capital.
"Let's do it for the gaffer! No, not you, Paulo..."
While LLL has been fairly confident over SpainÃ¢ÂÂs passage through the tournament thus far, the blog suspects that the champions might be running into trouble against their Iberian neighbours.
A number of factors are against Spain. There's the enormous commute between the sideÃ¢ÂÂs training base on the Polish coast and Donetsk, scene of the semi-final and la Roja's quarter-final victory over France. Then there's the fact that Portugal have had two more days to prepare for the match, which does seem a little unfair and some iffy planning by UEFA.
Although Del Bosque may tinker with the formation (but probably not) and include Fernando Llorente Ã¢ÂÂ a player who made an impressive cameo in SpainÃ¢ÂÂs narrow victory in the same fixture two years ago in the World Cup Ã¢ÂÂ his team arenÃ¢ÂÂt creating nearly enough chances to defeat a team who could be a lot more prolific than their previous opponents.
The other advantage Portugal have Ã¢ÂÂ besides naturally lower expectations Ã¢ÂÂ is that they donÃ¢ÂÂt really need as much possession as other rivals, as Ronaldo and Nani only need five or six seconds to get the job done. And score a goal, too.
Mourinho will be hoping for a Portugal victory, but one which makes his Madrid men shake hands after the match rather than stamp on them from the first whistle.