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Portugal vs. Spain: Cristiano Ronaldo Ready To Light Up Euro 2012 Semifinal

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Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates winning the Euro 2012 quarterfinal match against Czech Republic in Warsaw, Poland, Thursday, June 21, 2012.
Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates winning the Euro 2012 quarterfinal match against Czech Republic in Warsaw, Poland, Thursday, June 21, 2012.

By James Goldman, Goal.com

This sleepy, industrial city has been virtually immune to Euro 2012 fever for large swathes of a tournament that will go down as having been an unqualified success. Not even the presence of the home team, on two occasions during the group stage, raised more than temporary and fleeting interest in the biggest sporting occasion to have graced this relatively new country.

The impending presence of Portugal's preening superstar has, however, belatedly changed the mood to one of anticipation and fascination, particularly among Donetsk’s female population.

Asked by a local journalist as to whether there was a hint of jealousy within his squad that "95 percent" of the women in Ukraine were desperate to catch even the most fleeting glimpse of Ronaldo, Paulo Bento's response was laced with dry wit, but there was probably an element of truth to it.

"You claim only 95 percent of women?" he said. "I can tell you I know Cristiano and after the game I am sure he will have 100 percent of them on his side."

While his appeal to the fairer sex is dubious, soccer has not quite been so quick to fall for his sporting charms. International success would, however, jettison him to a new level of stardom and there is an increasing feeling here that, having starred against the Dutch and dispatched the Czechs, the stage is set. Certainly, Spain is aware of the threat he poses.

"We have to try to deactivate him. We played against him at the last World Cup and we showed we knew how to stop him," said coach Vicente del Bosque. "Of course we have to take notice of Ronaldo. He's an excellent player and it is logical there is so much talk about him. He plays in Spain which is also a factor.

"We will just be ourselves but of course we have to pay attention to certain details of the opposition but it's important to play our own game and develop our own ideas."

If criticism of Ronaldo, especially when you consider that the histrionics and attention seeking is now less frequent than ever before, is preposterous, then what to make of the skeptics who have decried the "ideas" Spain's coach spoke of as negative and dull?

Del Bosque sagely opined: "We live an era where everybody can complain about anything."

How true. Particularly at a time when England laments its inability to retain possession and produce players who place technique ahead of industry, there is much to admire about Spain’s array of tiki-taka experts and Andres Iniesta in particular.

Spain's whirling dervish may not have the same dynamic qualities as Ronaldo but in a more subtle way he possesses a similar ability to change a game, a season and indeed a tournament. While some may find it hard to warm to Spain or Ronaldo, by contrast, Iniesta is instantly likeable.

"We have to try to deactivate him. We played against him at the last World Cup and we showed we knew how to stop him" - Del Bosque

As his Spain teammate, the Sevilla striker Alvaro Negredo pointed out on Tuesday: "First and foremost I especially like Andres as a human being and a person. When it comes to soccer we know what his great qualities are. When he has the ball he can always be the decisive factor."

As eloquent off the pitch as he is on it, it was no surprise to watch on as Iniesta avoided controversy by delivering a thoughtful and methodical answer to criticism of Spain's possession-based game.

"Soccer is great in this respect not everyone likes the same thing or can agree on everything," he said. "It's a diversity of opinion that is really what makes soccer so special. We have our style and a game which brings us success.

"We won two trophies with this style but any opinions are valued and I respect them. The truth is once you have a team that always attacks and attacks against a closed defense, it doesn't leave you many spaces.

"Of course it’s not as attractive as an open match between two teams who want to win. But this style has brought us success that we can identify with. It's a style that a few years back that changed the history of Spain forever. That's enough for me."

And who are we to argue with that? The crowds may be flocking to Donbass Arena to see the man with the slicked-backed hair and dynamite shot, but it would be just like the quiet man of Barcelona's midfield to make the more lasting impression.

Follow @GoalUSA on Twitter.

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