Spain reign maintained as Portugal pay the penalty
Adam Hurrey's crusade to analyse, in excruciating depth, the unique language of football.
The 1st Semi Final at Euro 2012 came down to penalties as Spain advance to Sunday's Final while a brave Portugal head home. As we prepare for tonight's 2nd Semi Final, our Euro 2012 blog correspondent Adam Hurrey reports.
Cesc Fabregas fired home the decisive penalty in Donetsk last night, propelling Spain into a third consecutive major-tournament final, and seeing off a hugely spirited Portugal.
Fabregas implored coach Vicente del Bosque to allow him the fifth penalty, claiming he’d had a premonition of this glorious moment. And, after Bruno Alves’ penalty struck the bar, Fabregas composed himself to make it reality.
In a game characterised by tension rather than all-out drama, clear openings were at a premium. Spain’s forward-line indecision led to a start for Sevilla’s Alvaro Negredo ahead of Fernando Torres and the puzzlingly under-used Fernando Llorente. The first chance fell to the less obvious Spanish goal threat of Alvaro Arbeloa after nine minutes, but his side footed finish blazed over the bar. Portugal attempted to disrupt the Spanish rhythm, as teams so often try, and their efforts were bearing fruit, if only in the possession stats. Cristiano Ronaldo roamed in search of a gap to exploit, but the Spanish rearguard was as miserly as ever.
Negredo was afforded less than an hour for his audition as Spain’s spearhead, and del Bosque summoned Fabregas. The reshuffling of the Spanish pack extended even to the usually pivotal Xavi being withdrawn with extra time looming, and the fleet-footed Pedro came on to stretch the game. But, as Spain pressed for a winner, Portugal sprung out and presented Ronaldo with the moment he craved. Fed on the left channel by Raul Meireles, Ronaldo raced into the Spanish area. Opting for sheer power – where, perhaps, Lionel Messi would have conjured up something more subtle – Ronaldo’s shot flew into the crowd behind Iker Casillas.
Andres Iniesta was denied by Rui Patricio after 100 minutes, when Jordi Alba’s surge and cross found him unmarked from six yards for the best chance of the game. Credit is due to both teams for an extra time that wasn’t the processional stay of execution it so often can be, but penalties still seemed inevitable.
So, the balls were fed into the machine for the lottery of the shoot-out. Xabi Alonso, who had scored from the spot against France with his favoured strike to the left, stepped up for Spain’s first. Alonso opted for the other side this time, however, and Rui Patricio beat his shot away. Casillas came to the instant rescue, though, saving comfortably from Joao Moutinho. Superb penalties were then despatched by Iniesta, Pepe, Pique and Nani before Sergio Ramos provided the Pirlo moment (or the Panenka, to be more faithful to football history) and floated his effort past a helpless Rui Patricio. Alves then stepped up, and it seemed the right moment for the twist. The crossbar shook, and Fabregas’ premonition was about to be realised.
Spain now travel to Kiev, once again the team to beat in the final. Neutrals cross their fingers for a well-rested Germany to see off Andrea Pirlo and Italy here in Warsaw tonight, and set up a fascinating head-to-head on Sunday.
I’ll be back tomorrow with all the fall-out from the second semi-final, a rivalry with a rich and dramatic history.
Adam will be covering Euro 2012 for the BettingExpert blog with thanks to our friends at Betfair.
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