It was the Portuguese who first achieved independence by expelling the Moors, originally from North Africa, and achieving national unity. Portugal then established a far-flung colonial empire, only to lose out later in large part to Spain. The result was a prolonged feeling towards Spain as an upstart and arrogant big brother.
Tonight, the Iberian neighbours will be taking their off-the-pitch rivalry to the Donbass Arena in Donetsk. The last time the two countries met in competitive football was in South Africa two years ago. That night David Villa completely ran the show and obliterated out-of-position right back Ricardo Costa, scoring the only goal of the game in the process. Unfortunately, Spain's all-time record goalscorer was ruled out of Euro 2012 back in January after horribly breaking his leg against Santos in the World Club Cup. But don't pity Spain. They have an absolute embarrassment of riches up front being able to pick from high profile names such as the two Fernandos - Torres and Llorente, Alvaro Negredo and even, as we have seen in this tournament, no-one.
The 4-6-0 formation that Spain have played has received derision from many, but a key statistic must be recognised. Spain have scored the same amount of goals with no striker as they have with a clearly defined number nine. Startling to think after all the talk of being too defensive. In the 4-6-0 formation, the striker's position evolves into a trequartista - an extremely advanced playmaker who makes no runs through the opposition defence. A role that Cesc Fabregas has played so far this tournament. The advantage of the 4-6-0 formation is that it utterly stifles the opposition's central midfield players as well as potentially outnumbering the opposition defence if opposition midfield players are lazy and do not track back (Malouda for the first Alonso goal). The disadvantage is that the lack of a focal point can mean that attacks are not fully exploited without a proper finisher on the pitch. This Spain side are nothing like the 2010 World Cup winning side, and even less like the 2008 Euro winning side. They have evolved into a creature that craves possession so much so that it sacrificed it's main way to score goals. Possession has become an obsession. And perhaps it has forgotten why it succeeded in the first place. After all, without a finisher, how can they 'finish' games?
The key match-ups tonight will be Portuguese wingers Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani against Spanish full-backs Alvaro Arbeloa and Jordi Alba. Ronaldo and Arbeloa are Real Madrid team-mates so will know all about each other's obvious strengths and weaknesses. Ronaldo, unlike France in Spain's last game, will not be frightened to shoot. He has amassed a total of 30 shots already this tournament which is 11 more than any other player at the competition. That is an average of over 7 shots a game. Amazingly, Ronaldo has only completed 4 dribbles all tournament. Clearly, he has been too busy cutting inside from the left and shooting instead of taking his full-back on and providing a cross for a team-mate. He has only one successful cross to his name. Another surprising statistic.
Spain have unsurprisingly dominated possession in each of their games so far, with an average of 67.5% which is by far the best of any team in the tournament. They have also completed 89.6% of the passes which is also better than any other team. Portugal's passing statistics however are extremely interesting. They have the lowest pass completion rate (78.5%) and possession (45.5%) of all the sides left in the tournament. Portugal's chances come from counter-attacks with 6 attempts from breakaway attacks which is by far the best of the tournament. The devastating pace of Nani and Ronaldo can cause problems if Spain commit too many men forward.
After praising young Nelson Oliveira to the high heavens the last time I wrote about Portugal, it was ironic that he would not play a single minute against Czech Republic. When Helder Postiga went down injured I got quite excited at the thought of the 20-year old Oliveira coming on, but instead Portugal boss Paulo Bento chose Hugo Almeida as Postiga's replacement. Bento is expected to choose Almeida again in an otherwise unchanged Portugal side since their very first game of the tournament - against Germany. I am certain that we will see Oliveira brought on as a sub if Portugal are chasing the game in the last thirty minutes, though.
Spain could pay for missed opportunities tonight as they will start without a clear number nine. They will have superior possession, that's for certain. Perhaps as high as 70%. But Portugal have proved that they don't need possession to win games at this tournament. I do fancy Spain to beat Portugal tonight, but they must be wary of the Portuguese counter-attack. Will it be a third successive final for Spain or can Ronaldo and co. ruin the party?