Match in a sentence
On a night where Spain looked to have met their match in a tactically superb Portuguese side, they yet again come out victorious in a thrilling penalty shootout that now sees them one win away from defending their European title and making history.
- Both teams opted to go with their usual 4-3-3 and they also both made one change up top.Portugal inserted Hugo Almeida in for the injured Helder Postiga. Vincent Del Bosque surprised many as he selected Alvaro Negredo to lead the line (This saw Fernando Torres, Fernando Llorente and Cesc Fabregas on the bench.)
- Negredo on his day can hold up the ball well, link with the midfield, provide pace, power, an aerial threat, drift into the channels, and also has an eye for goals. Unfortunately for him, tonight wasn’t his night. He looked absolutely lost during his 56 minute appearance, and many were left questioning what exactly Del Bosque expected of him. To be fair, the Spanish midfield didn’t provide him with much support or service anyways.
- Portugal throughout the game showed no fear and pressed the Spanish rather high and kept their defensive line high as well, as they were trying to leave the Spanish with virtually no space to play in. Paulo Bento’s tactics were spot on and this unsettled Spain, and left them making many mistakes that they aren’t used too. For the first half they targeted Alvaro Arbeloa who pushed high up the pitch and tried to unleash Ronaldo in 1v1’s with his Madrid teammate but not much came from it. During the second half Arbeloa was cautious of his positioning and was less adventurous. Ronaldo and Nani switched sides to try to create a spark but nothing came from it.
- Although,Portugal was playing so well in handling the tiki-taka style, it has to be said that they lacked thrust in the final third, as they finished the game with 0 shots on target. Their best player on the night apart from Pepe who again was fantastic was Joao Moutinho. He performed his defensive duties in the midfield to perfection and utilized the space provided on the right hand side to try to add some creativity into the game.
- In all honesty it wasn’t a good game of football (unless you were a Spanish or Portuguese fan). It had that Clasico feeling to it as the game progressed, with the tension growing and the amount of cards that were being handed out, I was surprised that no player was sent off.
- Ronaldo on the night was decent, but he was a shade of the man we saw against Holland & the Czech Republic. Aside from shading the wrong side of the post in the first half, Ronnie failed to connect with his several free kick attempts in the second half, and also failed to capitalize in what was Portugal’s best opportunity to win the game (to be fair Raul Meireles pass was awful).
- To touch on Ronaldo quickly, I don’t think there is a player in the world right now who can make a dead ball swerve and dip like he does, but when will teams that he plays for go about a different option on set pieces. I felt there were times Portugal would benefit more if they sent in a dangerous ball to the back post for their players to attack. The Spanish players aren’t the tallest and Portugal does have an aerial advantage over them, so it boggles me why they never go about a “Plan B” when presented with these opportunities. Many should also check Ronaldo’s goal/shot ratio on free kicks, and that should say it all.
- As for Spain, I thought Iniesta & Silva did well, but Spain’s off the ball movement was poor, there were no diagonal runs or runs to begin with. They defended conservatively rather then high up the field as usual, they had a more compact shape and yet again kept another clean sheet in a knockout game.
- In Extra Time as Portuguese legs began to tire, we saw a bit more of what the Spanish game is all about. Spain did revert back to the false nine in the second half bringing on Fabregas. While doing so they injected the width they dearly lack by bringing on Pedro and Jesus Navas (Alba their only player who can stretch the game had a fantastic outing).Spain’s game became more direct and these wingers looked bright. Rui Patricio though, made two fine stops from close range to keep the game deadlocked and saw it go into a penalty shootout.
- It was the second shootout of the tournament, and was far more unpredictable than the Italy-England one (England can’t take penalties now can they, let’s be honest with ourselves they had no chance). It started off with that unpredictability as Xabi Alonso’s shot was saved by Patricio. We also saw Joao Moutinho have his shot saved, and Bruno Alves hit the bar. Up stepped Cesc Fabregas, the man who scoredSpain’s final penalty to defeat Italy in the Quarter Finals in 2008. He made no mistake as he calmly slotted his kick past Patricio and sent Spain to Euro 2012 finals where they have a chance to defend their title against Germany or Spain.
- Many will question Paulo Bento for his selection on the five shooters that apparently had Cristiano Ronaldo shooting fifth.
- Portugal’s terrific run at Euro 2012 has come to an end. To many they overachieved, but I had this team in the semifinals and they proved me right again. We learned a lot about this team and Paulo Bento who put in a tactical master class today but unfortunately was on the wrong side of the shootout. This Portuguese side made Spain look so ordinary and plain and that should not be forgotten. They stuck to their plan, they believed not only in them selves but in their system and manager that they could go toe to toe with arguably the best national side to ever play and they were spot kicks away from achieving this. This could also be the spark that ignites many teams to find an answer for this tiki-taka style that has yet to be defeated. The Portuguese might have lost the battle today but for the long-term this could be the start of a ship waiting to be sunk by many who want to see Spain/Barcelona fail. My hats go off to them and I expect to see them continue this progress en route to the World Cup 2014 where they will be contenders to lift the trophy in Brazil.
- Spain head into the finals without conceding a goal in their last nine knockout round games in major tournaments which stems back to their quarter-final game with Italy at Euro 2008. What’s worrying for this team is that Del Bosque still doesn’t know what his best XI is. It seems like they will go with false nine and if they do David Silva must be sacrificed. They need a winger to open up space in the midfield, and there are times when they just seem to narrow going forward. You can argue the Portuguese legs were tired, but Spain had 48 hours less rest and when Navas and Pedro came on Spain were at their best and looked very much like Barcelona for once. It will be interesting to see how Del Bosque approaches the finals knowing that a win will put this Spanish team in a class above the rest, but if they are to go with the false nine it must be Navas or Pedro over Silva.
- Spain find a way again and are now the first team since West Germany in 1975 to make it to 3 consecutive major tournament finals. Somewhat like Del Bosque’s side in 2010, they weren’t always the best team on the day but they were efficient. They deserve the plaudits because they made it to a European final against a nearly perfect Portuguese team playing nowhere near their best. Let’s remember that they are without Puyol & David Villa, two instrumental figures in this side. They now are win away from possibly cementing themselves as the best national side to ever play the game, as they would be the first team to win three consecutive major competitions. That is absolutely outstanding. You also have to credit Del Bosque who has been able to build hunger in this team who have won it all, and for the last four years have been merely enemies in this Barcelona-Real Madrid rivalry. These players haven’t got much rest in those years playing close to 70 games a year, but haven’t lost the hunger to win and that is the mark of true champions.
- Cesc Fabregas, who is now 25, has failed to earn a permanent starting spot in this Spanish XI over the last four years. It would be tough for any midfielder to start over Xavi & Iniesta, and he surely would gain a place in any other XI in the world. Fabregas never complains and always goes out on the field and does his job, and arguably he is a key component in this side’s success due to his versatility. He scored the shootout winner against Italy in the 2008 quarter finals, played in that same final against Germany and was magnificent, he came on as sub in the 2010 final and assisted Andres Iniesta’s winner, and now his penalty has sent Spain off to another final in a major tournament. He deserves the recognition I give him because to be on the bench for so long in your international career which is a short one, and to have the class to put all the disappointment behind him and step up for his country when called upon his truly fitting. Cesc Fabregas should be a role model too many playing the game and has earned my respect. (Michael Carrick and Micah Richards can learn a thing or two from this man).
- Sergio Ramos
- Joao Moutinho
- Jordi Alba
Honourable mentions to Pepe, Pique and Fabio Coentrao