Spain 0-0 Portugal (Pens: 4-2): Fabregas penalty sends Spain through to the final
We waited and waited for Spain to turn up in this game and eventually they did, with Cesc Fabregas sealing their final place in a tense penalty shoot-out (as if there is any other kind). Joao Moutinho and Bruno Alves were the unlucky ones and for Portugal and it was a cruel way for the team to depart the competition as they had matched the reigning European Champions over the two-hour contest.
Before the match we were wondering which Portugal Spain would have to face: the defensive version which they beat 1-0 in the second round of the 2006 World Cup or the lively, counter-attacking one which spanked the newly-crowned world champions 4-0 just three months later in Paulo Bento’s third game in charge.
It turned out to be a combination of the two which harried and hassled the reigning champions from the off, denying them the chance to settle into their usual metronomic passing routine and posing a regular threat on the counter attack. The game fluctuated. The first half was Portugal’s, the second was a dogged, dull stalemate and it wasn’t until Portugal had all-but run themselves into the ground that Spain came to the fore. Andreas Iniesta drew a magnificent save from Rui Patricio 13 minutes into the extra period and two minutes later Sergio Ramos was inches over with a free kick. The reigning champions were dominant in this final 30 minutes, aware that Portugal’s best hope of victory would be penalties and out to deny them that chance.
The first half of this Iberian Derby was fascinating with two competing styles going toe-to-toe. Portugal pressed high up the pitch and trusted their defenders with any threat that Spain presented which, as they were denied space to play their usual fluent game were few and far between. Twice in the opening two minutes they punted it long, tiki-taka relinquished for Route One?
We can get carried away the new vogue for poring over stats but its worth remembering that for all their possession Spain tend not to turn it in to a hatful of goals against the stronger teams. They still saw more of the ball than Portugal but not as much as they’re used to and for long periods in the early part of this game, we saw what Spain look like when they’re denied the opportunity to play to their usual rhythm – uncertain and ragged, ordinary even. So here are some more stats for you: Spain’s first shot on target came in the 68th minute and their first corner in the 51st (Portugal had three in the first half alone). And you thought England were bad.
The big questions were always whether Portugal could keep up the effort required to maintain their game plan and how they would cope with any tactical switches Spain made.
The first of substitution came ten minutes into the second half when Vincente Del Bosque withdrew Spain’s centre forward Alvaro Negredo and replaced him with Cesc Fabregas. Six minutes later Navas, who made a late impact against both Italy and Croatia, grabbing a goal against the latter, joined the fray. The changes created a little more impetus for Spain, they seemed to gain the ascendancy but it was all too brief. The second half was poor from both teams and petered out to the inevitable extra time. However extra time was theirs’ and although they didn’t seal it then, they were in the ascendancy and were able to claim victory from the spot.
They have become only the second team to reach the final of three consecutive major tournaments, the other being West Germany between 1972 and 1976. They were denied a hat trick of wins in the last of those finals. Will Spain go one better? Germany themselves might have a say in that.
Spain (4-3-3): Spain: Casillas; Arbeloa, Ramos, Pique, Alba; Busquets, Alonso, Xavi (Pedro 87); Iniesta, Silva (Navas 60), Negredo (Fabregas 54)
Portugal (4-3-3): Patrício; Pereira, Alves, Pepe, Coentrão; Veloso (Custodio 105), Moutinho, Meireles (Varela 112); Nani, Ronaldo, Almeida (Olivera 81).
Did you know…Casillas has become the first player to notch up 100 international wins – from 136 matches.
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