Spain defeated Portugal on penalty kicks and moved on to Sunday’s Euro Final, but the bigger talking point may have been that Cristiano Ronaldo never stepped up to the spot for the Portuguese.
Despite reaching this semifinal Spain have yet to reach the level we have come to expect from them in this tournament. Portugal certainly seemed to have no fear of their Iberian neighbors, and came out playing aggressively. Portugal were determined to press Spain further up the field rather than lay back and hope to counter as teams often attempt against the champions.
Spain still had plenty of the ball, but a miss-hit Arbeloa chance aside, they never seriously threatened Rui Patricio in the Portuguese goal. Portugal played a confident first half and might have been disappointed not to have scored in the opening stanza.
The early going in the second half continued the pattern of Spain looking somewhat listless with Portugal more dangerous. Spain’s manager Vicente Del Bosque had tried something a little different in starting traditional striker Negredo up top, instead of Cesc Fabregas. But with his attack not clicking Del Bosque gave Negredo a quick hook, pulling him for Fabregas in the 53rd minute.
Spain eventually showed some improvement as the clock headed for the 90 minute mark. Portugal had some defensive heroes in Bruno Alves and Pepe and the match ended at 0-0, and on to extra time.
Spain’s experience began to show in the extra periods and substitutes Navas and Pedro began to cause trouble for Portugal with some good wide play. Spain very nearly settled matters in the 103rd minute, but Rui Patricio made a huge save to deny Iniesta. By the time the second 15 minutes of extra time rolled around Portugal seemed to be playing for penalties, never a smart idea.
Following on the heels of Italy’s quarterfinal win over England this would be the second Euro match in a row to be decided by penalty kicks. There can be no crueler way to exit a major championship, but the drama can be hard to beat .
Rui Patricio saved superbly from Xabi Alonso, but Iker Casillas answered back by repelling Joao Mouthino’s effort, and we were underway. The next five shooters found the target, including Sergio Ramos, whose audacious chip mirrored Italy’s Andrea Pirlo’s gem versus England.
Then Bruno Alves, who had been called back in favor of Nani on Portugal’s previous attempt, hammered his shot of the crossbar and out. Spain were one away and Ronaldo hadn’t shot. One can only assume that Portugal’s best player and dominant figure was being saved for the fifth shot.
That fifth spot would never come up, Fabregas saw to that. Fabregas skipped his shot in off the upright, inches from Rui Patricio’s outstretched fingertips. Spain head now to Sunday’s final with the chance to win their third major title in succession. The 2008 Euro and the 2010 World Cup are already theirs.
They wait now for tomorrow’s winner between Germany and Italy, while the rest of the soccer world tries to understand why a man who scored 60 goals this season never got the chance to score one more.