Spain Advances To UEFA Euro 2012 Final After Beating Portugal In PKs
However, the game was not the exciting "clash of the titans" that was expected, but instead an underwhelming performance on both sides that ended in a shootout. In by far the most exciting part of the match, the defending Euro Cup and world champions Spain showed their resolve, pulling away 4-2 in penalty kicks and securing another berth in the European Final.
The PKs did not come without controversy, as Portugal's best striker, Cristiano Ronaldo, did not take a shot. After three rounds with the score tied at two, Portugal’s Bruno Alves stepped up to take the fourth, but Nani called him back and took it instead. He made it, and then Ramos followed it up with a make of his own, giving Spain a 3-2 lead.
This is where it gets interesting.
Instead of Ronaldo taking this shot, Alves again stepped up, and he shanked it off the crossbar, keeping the 3-2 for Spain. Smelling blood in the water, the Spanish fans started getting excited as Cesc Fabregas positioned himself to take the potential game-winner. He drove it of the inside off the right post and into the goal, sending Spain one again to the Finals.
Going into this game, both teams had been crushing opponents; Spain with their methodical "tiki-taka" passing attack and Portugal with the incredible striking forces of Ronaldo and Nani. Even so, the odds were stacked in Spain's favor: The Spaniards were undefeated in their last 18 competitive games, and had not lost any of their last four semifinal games at a major tournament. Meanwhile, Portugal had only won one of their past five semis. What they could cling to, though, was the fact that the last time these two teams met in 2010, Portugal romped Spain, 4-0.
The game started as expected: Defending champs Spain controlled possession like they have consistently done through the Championship thus far, but play moved relatively slowly. Only nine shots were taken between the two teams, and only one—from Spain—was actually on target. Portugal clearly frustrated Spain and took them off their game a little, but not enough to break down their defense and strike blood themselves.
Spain had more quality chances than Portugal, with Andrés Iniesta, Álvaro Arbeloa and Álvaro Negredo taking shots that sailed just over the crossbars or slightly wide, giving the Portuguese a reason to be nervous. However, they played their game well too, effectively keeping Xavi, one of Spain’s most dangerous assests, out of the first half. They also put keeper Iker Casillas to work for the first time in the tournament, making him clear the ball many times. Ronaldo had a relatively quiet half as well, save for one shot that looked on target but was actually wide right of the goal.
The teams went off the field scoreless after what was a frustrating, underwhelming half. The second half was hardly any more entertaining. Portugal had many opportunities come from corner kicks and set pieces, but failed to capitalize on any. Spain had one quality attempt at goal from Iniesta, after Pedro masterfully created space for him, but Portguese goalie Rui Patricio brilliantly deflected it.
Extra time came and went, and though Spain seemed to have found their momentum, they could not get any shots to land in the back of the net. Portugal essentially disappeared in extra time, having zero attempts to Spain's five. With Spain winning in PKs, there are many questions to be asked about Bento’s strategy. Why would Portugal risk holding Ronaldo back, when the team was already down 3-2? That seems like a huge risk to take, and clearly it did not work out in Portugal’s favor.
Once again, Portugal—but mostly Ronaldo—failed to live up to expectations at the international level.
On Thursday, Germany and Italy will duke it out at 11:45 a.m. Pacific Time for the right to face the defending champions, which is set for July 1, at the same time.