Spain v Portugal Euro Quarter Final - A Tactical Analysis

By Stevie Grieve

Spain and Portugal are 2 of the top sides in the world, Spain current World and European Champions, and ranked number 1, Portugal are ranked number 8 and are always a dangerous side with players like Ronaldo and Nani in the team. Portugal played Spain in a friendly 2 years ago and won 4-0, but Spain are a different team in competitions, and Portugal knew this game could be the defining moment in a potential Euro Championship win. Portugal played Spain with bravery, playing a high pressing game, with lots of possession, but with more direct play around the goal. Spain were far away from their best during the game and Portugal although played very well, couldn’t capitalise on the overloads they created near the goal. Spain won on penalties and reaches the final, to play against Italy or Germany.

Portugal 3v3 opportunity – Almeida wastes a chance with a long range shot

Nani finds Almeida behind Spain’s midfield but as Nani offers a pass behind the defence, Ronaldo makes a run behind the defence to offer a pass inside from Nani, where he would be no more than 10 yards from goal 1v1 with Casillas in the Spain goal. Almeida however, has a different idea, and shoots from 30 yards and blazes it over the bar with a great opportunity wasted. He should’ve tried to find Nani behind Pique and look to get inside the box for a pass, dribble or shot to give Portugal a better chance of scoring.

Portugal’s late minute 4v2 – Meireles’ bad pass stops Portugal from winning the match

Spain have a corner and Portugal head clear. The ball is knocked down to Meireles who can drive forward into space, and makes a 4v2 for Portugal, with options left and right to Nani and Ronaldo, with Oliveira supporting centrally. Spain have 3 players able to recover if the final decision or pass is poor.

As Meireles plays the pass left to Ronaldo, he had 2 options to penetrate the defence. The white circles are target zones where he could’ve passed the ball to allow Ronaldo and Nani the chance to use their speed to get away from the defence and go through 1v1 on the goalkeeper, with the probability of having a far post pass option. Instead, Meireles plays the pass behind Ronaldo, slowing down the attack and turns a 4v2 into a 2v3.

As Ronaldo touches the ball into a shooting position, Spain have a 3v2 advantage and Ronaldo is rushed into shooting by Pique. He blazes the shot over the bar and Portugal lose the chance to win the game in the last minute. If Meireles’ pass was played ahead of Ronaldo, he would’ve had a much better to score and win the game.

Training Session to develop overloads and exploiting them

Mark out a central box where 2 teams will play 4v4, the 1st team to get to 5 passes inside the box can pass into the 2 wide attackers of the same colour, who would have a 2v2, 2 players from the central box can support the play to have a 4v2 advantage to try and score. The attack has 6 seconds to score after the ball is passed into the final 3rd.

Coaching Points:

  • Think ahead, can the player you pass to find the next pass?
  • If you can see the ball can be passed into the final 3rd, can you support play early to increase the speed of the attack?
  • Be decisive and accurate around the box in an overload – use the extra players to create space to score or find the final pass to score


  • Allow 1 player to recover to make a 4v3
  • After 3 seconds, allow a 2nd player to recover for a 4v4 – increasing the speed of the attack to take advantage of the overload
  • Make the pass count inside the box to be smaller i.e. 4 passes to allow more opportunities for overloading
  • Play with 1 central attacker who can move with play and allow 2,3 or 4 players from the box to support from deep against 2 or 3 defenders

This article is by Stevie Grieve, author of  Modern Soccer Tactics.  The article is an excerpt from his soon-to-be-released book, Winning Soccer Tactics.  This book takes a look at the tactics of EVERY EURO 2012 game and includes drills and exercises on how you can implement these tactics on the training field with your own team.

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