Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo
will Wednesday be finding himself in the unenviable position of
having to confront both his closest rivals and some of his best
In the Donetsk semi-final against Spain, Ronaldo is to face his Real Madrid friends Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Alvaro Arbeloa and Xabi Alonso. However, he will also come up against Gerard Pique, Xavi Hernandez, Sergio Busquets or Andres Iniesta, Real's traditional Barcelona rivals.
Adding to the plot, Portugal also feature Real Madrid's Pepe and Fabio Coentrao, so the match could turn into a sort of remix of the hot-blooded classics of Spanish football between the white and blue-and-red shirts.
Spain's players are well aware of the potential of the Portugal superstar, who has scored 69 goals so far this season.
"Cristiano makes a difference on a global scale. He has taken it upon himself to carry Portugal's weight over the past two matches, and personal challenges are the best for any footballer," Sergio Ramos said late Saturday.
Ramos, who is a friend of Ronaldo's as well as a team-mate, highlighted the fact that the winger scored two goals against the Netherlands and the winning goal in the quarter-finals against the Czech Republic.
"We know of his ability, his capacity to be definitive, and we know he can make trouble at any time," said Xabi Alonso.
Busquets noted that it is most likely Ronaldo will play on the left, where he would face his Real Madrid team-mate Arbeloa.
"He probably knows best how to stop him, but we all have to help," said Barcelona's defensive midfielder.
Pique, who almost always marked Ronaldo well and who shared a changing room with the star at Manchester United, stressed that the Portuguese player has "incredible qualities."
"We'll have to mark him collectively with a lot of help, knowing that he can get past you but that there will be a team-mate behind who can give you a hand. Having the ball will mean that he is less involved and that he has fewer options of getting past," the defender said.
The personal clash between goalscorer Ronaldo and keeper Casillas will be a major source of interest in Donetsk.
Although there was once talk of a bad relationship between the two, it seems things have gone back to normal, and on Sunday Portugal's Joao Pereira even mentioned the possibility that they might have sent each other text messages ahead of the semi-final.
"Portugal's and Spain's 23 know each other very well. I haven't got messages from anyone, but I think Casillas, Pepe and Ronaldo have sent each other messages. That's normal, they're team-mates and those things are normal among friends," Pereira noted.
Jose Manuel Ochotorena, the coach for Spain keepers, stressed Sunday that knowing rivals well can be both "good or harmful."
"One knows the other. With a player like Cristiano, the difficulty lies in the changes of direction the ball makes when he shoots," he said.
Even though Cristiano Ronaldo attracts most of the limelight, one can hardly overlook the notoriety that Real Madrid's Pepe has attained when facing Barcelona players, complete with a good number of incidents.
Will players like Casillas or Ramos mediate if Pepe clashes with Xavi or Pique at Euro 2012?
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