/ Euro 2012

Iniesta happy to stick with winning formula

Updated: Wednesday, 27 Jun 2012 07:22

Andres Iniesta (L) and Pedro Rodriguez at the end of a training session yesterday
Andres Iniesta (L) and Pedro Rodriguez at the end of a training session yesterday

Spain midfielder Andres Iniesta is not letting criticism of his side's style of play get under his skin, while Hugo Almeida will lead Portugal’s attack for their Euro 2012 semi-final this evening.

Spain, the reigning European and world champions, remain on course to become the first nation to win three successive major international tournaments after progressing through to the last four on the back of three successive victories without conceding a goal following their opening 1-1 draw with Italy.

However, while Spain's passage has been relatively comfortable so far, they have found themselves under fire from critics who feel their 'tiki-taka' passing style of play is boring.

Iniesta, whose goal won Spain the 2010 World Cup final against Holland, was keen to defend his side though, pointing out that it is not always easy to produce an entertaining match when the opposition seem more inclined to pack men behind the ball.

The Barcelona star said: "Football's so great because not everyone likes the same thing, we don't have to all agree on everything. For us, the play that we have, the way we have of doing things, is what has led us to our success, to winning titles.

"All opinions should be respected, but when a team always wants to attack against an opponent who are shutting up shop, who are only trying to stop you hurting them, football is not as attractive as when the game is open, with two teams who are looking to win.

"We feel identified with our style of play, and a few years ago this style changed the history of Spain for good."

Iniesta also played down concerns about the fact Portugal have had an extra two days of rest ahead of tonight's opening semi-final at the Donbass Arena in Donetsk.

Iniesta said: "At this stage what we want to do is play, not think about those two days.

"The competition is set up like that, at other times we will have more of a break than another team. Right now we shouldn't be thinking about tiredness, but of playing well, of being precise, efficient and we can think about tiredness when the competition is over.

"Now that is secondary, because we have the desire to achieve something unique."

Spain have had mixed success against Portugal in recent years.

In the 2010 World Cup, the Spanish won their last-16 tie 1-0 in Cape Town before subsequently going on to lift the trophy, but in a friendly in Lisbon later that same year Portugal gained a measure of revenge with a 4-0 victory over their Iberian rivals.

Iniesta said of that heavy loss: "That was some time ago, it's a game which has no beating on the one we will play tomorrow.

"(However), it does forewarn us of what Portugal can do if Spain are not on their game and focused.

"Portugal have players who can decide games, and it's going to be a very demanding day. We will have to be focused for the 90 minutes to be able to beat them."

For Portugal meanwhile, Besiktas striker Hugo Almeida is set to be given the daunting task of trying to crack Spain's resolute rearguard and lead his country to their second European Championship final.

Almeida has been a bit-part player in Paulo Bento's side's recovery from an opening loss to Germany to match into the last four with successive victories over Denmark, Holland and the Czech Republic.

But Almeida is eager to seize his chance after injury ruled out his team-mate Helder Postiga for the duration of the tournament, leaving Bento no option but to make changes for the first time.

Almeida said: "I've worked hard to be called into the starting line-up and I'll take this opportunity.

"I was a little sad not to be included in the starting line-up but when the opportunity comes you have to be at your very best."

Most attention will inevitably focus on Portuguese talisman Cristiano Ronaldo, whose double against Holland and quarter-final winner against the Czechs has put them on the brink of another final.

Ronaldo insists he is completely unfazed by the prospect of facing the reigning world and European champions and says his side's mental strength under the leadership of Bento can make a big difference.

Ronaldo told UEFA.com: "I am not feeling the pressure of playing Spain or any other team because it is part of my life. I will always have responsibility but pressure? Not much.

"We lost our first match and then won all the others. I think that shows the great mental capacity of this team, and it didn't surprise me because I knew the goals would come.

"[Paulo Bento] is doing a great job, not only now but also during qualification. I think he's done a phenomenal job.

"From the moment he took on the national team he has believed in the players and is getting results in the final stage."

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