Spain’s reign continues as Portugal bow out

In case you didn’t know, the first semi final in the European Championships kicked off tonight in Donetsk. It was an Iberian derby between old rivals Spain and Portugal. Most football fans had been anticipating this game since Spain beat France to set up this tie. With a reported injury to Cesc Fabregas, Vicente Del Bosque was forced to make a change to his system of playing a false 9 – Sevilla striker Álvaro Negredo was preferred to Fernando Torres up top. Portugal, on the other hand, made one change from their victory over the Czech Republic, with Hugo Almeida replacing Real Zaragoza striker Helder Postiga.

Cesc celebrates sending Spain to the final

Portugal started the game at a frantic pace. They forced some early corners from the Spanish who were made to look uncomfortable. They couldn’t get their foot on the ball and they seemed frustrated. But, as night follows day, they regained their composure and began to spray the ball around the park.

It wasn’t as comfortable as it usually is, though. Portugal pressed high up the park and it was unsettling the Spaniards. The inclusion of Negredo seemed to hamper the World Champions somewhat. Iniesta and Arbeloa came close with two long range shots. Cristiano Ronaldo also came close for Portugal when he shot narrowly wide.

A change of system was required if Spain were going to reach the final. Del Bosque realised this and took off Negredo and Silva for Jesús Navas and Cesc Fábregas. Spain began to control the game more from this point onwards. More movement up front was starting to trouble the lumbering Pepe. No chances of note came in the second half though and the game seemed to be heading for penalties.

Or was it? A swift counter attack from the Portuguese meant the ball was Ronaldo’s feet. 12 yards out and a goal would surely have sent his team to the final. But unfortunately for him and his team mates he blasted it wide. For the second successive Euro 2012 game we had extra time.

The 30 extra minutes was totally different to the previous 90. Navas and Pedro began to come into the game a lot more as Portugal seemed to drop deep. It seemed as though Paolo Bento’s men were playing for penalties. Gaps began to appear and chances were created.

Almeida shoots for Portugal

Just before the end of the first half, Iniesta missed a guilt edged opportunity. Rui Patricio was equal to his shot and it remained scoreless. The second half followed the same plan. Navas was terrorising Fabio Coentrao and he nearly forced a winner at the end when his rasping drive was almost palmed in the path of Pedro who was waiting to finish, But, just like Sunday night it was penalties again. And that is not where the similarities ended.

Just like Sunday, the first team to miss their penalty went through. Xabi Alonso stepped up surely to score. But the Bearded Basque pass master saw his kick saved. Fortunately for him, Iker Casillas saved Portugal’s first kick. The turning point came when Sergio Ramos, fresh from missing a penalty versus Bayern Munich in May, emulated Andrea Pirlo’s beautiful penalty from the other night and tried a delicate chip which came off. Bruno Alves hit the cross bar which left Cesc Fabregas; Spain’s hero of 2008 when he struck the winning penalty against Italy. He did so again, sending Spain to the final.

They will either face Germany or Italy on Sunday as they try to make history. If they do so, they will become the first nation ever to win three successive tournaments. If they are to do so, they will surely have to revert back to the false nine system which has helped them reach the final. It’s quite clearly their most successful system despite what some people say.


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