Spain advanced to the final of the European Championships in a dramatic, yet uneventful, game against Iberian rivals Portugal.
Cesc has yet to solidify his spot in Spain’s starting lineup as Del Bosque relegated him to the bench again, this time in favor of Negredo instead of Torres. FC Barcelona still enjoyed a solid showing in the starting 11, as Casillas, Arbeloa, Ramos, Piqué, Alba, Xavi, Busquets, Alonso, Iniesta, Negredo and Silva began the game for La Roja.
The European Championships standout Ronaldo started for Portugal, along with Patricio, Pereira, Pepe, Alves, Coentrão, Meireles, Moutinho, Veloso, Nani and Almeida.
Portugal was clearly the better team for the first few minutes. Spain was slow to start and it was easy to see which team had the extra days of rest between quarterfinal and semifinal.
Once Spain did warm up, their western neighbors didn’t look quite as dangerous. Many of Portugal’s chances fell to one player – Ronaldo. The Real Madrid man had clearly carried his country on his back all the way to the semifinal and seemed intent to not stop until a trophy was in his hand.
As for Spain, La Roja was ever-patient as usual. The team had opportunities, but was prepared to settle back and wait until an opening appeared instead of pressuring the opposition into making a mistake.
The first yellow card of the game fell on Ramos. The right back took down Ronaldo off the ball in the 40th minute. Five minutes later, Coentrão likewise earned a booking for another off-the-ball incident.
By the end of the first half, the Iberian El Clásico failed to really live up to the hype. The familiar tension just began to thicken toward the final minutes, but neither team had really capitalized on any of its chances.
Neither side made any substitutions and the sloppy start to the second half proved that it might have been smart to make the opposite decision.
Del Bosque noticed the lack of energy quickly and replaced Negredo with Cesc in the 54th minute to remedy the problem. Spain’s choice formation – if it can be called a formation – for the tournament that operates without a true striker has served the team well, even if it bored fans with tight score lines.
Controversy ensued in the 60th minute. Ramos tackled Ronaldo in the box and the forward called for a penalty. The referee, in turn, carded Busquets for waving an imaginary yellow card – a bit of a bad habit for the Barcelona midfielder.
Just after, Navas came on for Silva in another attempt to reinvigorate Spain’s offense. Just a minute later, the yellow cards again went flying. Pepe earned a booking for a harsh challenge in the air on Alonso. His teammate Pereira suffered a similar fate in the 63rd minute after tugging down Cesc on the edge of the box.
Neither team looked able to score and the players’ frustration showed. After Almeida changed with Olvieira in the 81st minute, Alonso conceded a dangerous free kick to Portugal. Ronaldo took it, but the referee cautioned Arbeloa with a yellow card for a handball. Ronaldo took the kick again but it sailed over the crossbar.
Alves found his way into the referee’s book in the 86th minute for tackling Cesc in the midfield. Soon after, Xavi traded with Pedro.
The last real action of the game was a yellow card for Veloso in the 93rd minute for a studs up challenge on Alba.
After a full 90 minutes, a 0-0 score line remained. Portugal and Spain entered extra time with the hope that penalties would not follow.
The first 15 minutes were reminiscent of the first 90 – that is to say, uneventful. Spain enjoyed several good chances but couldn’t put anything away.
Custodio came on for Veloso on at the start of the second half of extra time. Portugal made another substitution when Varela replaced Meireles in the 113th minute. Judging by the time it took to make the last substitution, Portugal was ready to settle for penalties. Spain, however, dug deep and found the energy. The team dominated most of extra time and clearly wanted the late winner.
Alonso couldn’t avoid the storm of yellow cards and received one of his very own in the 114th minute. But soon the time dwindled down and the final whistle blew again, signaling a penalty shootout.
Alonso stepped up first for Spain, but the usually dependable midfielder had his attempt saved by Patricio. Casillas wasn’t rattled, though, and likewise saved Portugal’s first hit from Moutinho.
Iniesta finished his low and past Patricio. Pepe beat Casillas to level the score at 1-1.
Piqué lived up to his name and scored a PK. Alves walked up but interestingly swapped with Nani at the last minute. Nani shot high into the roof of the net but scored.
Ramos sent the goalkeeper the wrong way quickly and finished slowly through the middle, sort of like the cool penalty kick Andrea Pirlo took a game prior. Then, Alves took his turn and hit the crossbar, putting Spain at a goal advantage.
Cesc had the chance to win the game for Spain and send his team to the final, just as he had at the last European Championships in the quarterfinal against Italy. Destiny cannot be denied, as Cesc hit the inside of the post and the ball rolled in over the line.
The captain and best Portuguese player Ronaldo never took a penalty kick, and his team lost to the defending champions. The game may have been goalless, it may have been boring, but Spain still came out on top.
The final semifinal match between Germany and Italy takes place Thursday. Spain will play the winner of that semifinal in the final of the European Championships on Sunday.
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