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Nerveless Spain ousts Portugal on penalties
by Ridge Mahoney, June 27th, 2012 6:57PM

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TAGS:  european championship, portugal, spain

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[SPAIN-PORTUGAL REPORT CARD] Spain earns plaudits for its exquisite play, and occasionally draws whistles and catcalls when it isn’t incisive enough, yet the defending World Cup and European champion is also resilient. So it was proved Wednesday in the European Championship semifinals when it defeated Portugal on penalty kicks, 4-2, to book a place in the final Sunday against either Germany or Italy.

Opposing goalkeepers Iker Casillas and Rui Patricio, whose sparkling saves in overtime kept the Portuguese in the game, each saved their opponents’ first attempt before Spain hit four straight. Cesc Fabregas ended the match on Spain’s fifth kick with a shot off the inside of the post after Portuguese defender Bruno Alves had blasted his attempt off the crossbar.

Spain’s vaunted passing game seldom opened up the Portuguese until overtime. In the regulation 90 minutes, it controlled most of the play without penetrating the Portuguese, which relied on rugged centerbacks Pepe and Alves, along with midfielders Miguel Veloso and Raul Meireles, to swallow up Spain’s diagonal passes and occasional crosses.

While the tactics worked defensively, the Portuguese rarely got the ball forward to exploit the talents of Cristiano Ronaldo. He was well-tracked by Spain and managed only one shot from a threatening position that he rolled about a yard past the post. The ineptness of forward Hugo Almeida stifled the determined and skillful work of Nani, whose occasional bursts into good spots weren’t exploited.

Substitutes Jesus Nava and Pedro drove Spain forward in overtime, but Rui Patricio turned away a close-range shot by Andres Iniesta, set up by one of many forays up the wing by Jordi Alba, and a searing shot by Navas created by a classic one-two with Alvaro Arbeloa.

In the shootout, Rui Patricio dived to his left to deflect Xabi Alonso’s first attempt for Spain, and Casillas went to his right to get a piece of Joao Moutinho’s shot. Iniesta converted for a 1-0 Spanish lead, Pepe equalized, Gerard Pique restored Spain’s lead at 2-1, and Nani boomed a second equalizer high into the net to re-tie the shootout at 2-2.

Alves had been preparing to take the kick, Portugal’s third, but was sent back by Nani. In the fourth round of kicks came the breakthrough. Sergio Ramos emulated Andres Pirlo’s audacious chip in the Italy’s quarterfinal defeat of England by chipping down the middle as Rui Patricio flew left, and then Alves’ rising shot hit the underside of the crossbar and bounced clear.

Fabregas shot low to Rui Patricio’s right and though the keeper dived in that direction he couldn’t reach the ball that caromed off the inside of the post. By that slim margin did Spain earn the right to once again be crowned.

SPAIN REPORT CARD
Starters
5 Iker Casillas (Real Madrid)
7 Jordi Alba (Valencia)
6 Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid)
5 Gerard Pique (Barcelona)
6 Alvaro Arbeloa (Real Madrid)
5 Andres Iniesta (Barcelona)
5 Xabi Alonso (Real Madrid)
6 Sergio Busquets (Barcelona)
5 Xavi (Barcelona)
3 Paulo Negreto (Sevilla)
5 David Silva (Man. City)
Substitutes
6 Jesus Nava (Sevilla)
6 Pedro (Barcelona)
5 Cesc Fabregas (Barcelona)

PORTUGAL REPORT CARD
Starters
7 Rui Patricio (Sporting)
4 Joao Pereira (Sheriff Tiraspol)
6 Bruno Alves (Zenit St. Petersburg)
6 Pepe (Real Madrid)
5 Fabio Coentrao (Real Madrid)
5 Miguel Veloso (Genoa)
4 Joao Moutinho (Porto)
5 Raul Meireles (Chelsea)
6 Nani (Man. United)
4 Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)
3 Hugo Almeida (Besiktas)
Substitutes
4 Nelson Oliveira (Benfica)
5 Custodio (Braga)
5 Silvestre Varela (Porto)



4 comments
  1. Carl Hudson
    commented on: June 28, 2012 at 9:49 a.m.
    As usual, the high penalties taken by these morons cost dearly.

  1. Kent James
    commented on: June 28, 2012 at 10:19 a.m.
    For a game that promised sparkling displays of offense, it was the defenses that excelled. Only in the overtime did Spain come alive and start to attack with urgency. While granting that a strong Portuguese defense might be responsible for Spain's lack of attempts on goal, I think too often the Spanish offense consisted of 2-3 players taking on 8 Portuguese defenders. Aside from the overtime, it was a disappointing game (though maybe my expectations were too high). In this case, I think the Spanish were so afraid to give up a counter attacking goal, they were hesitant to attack themselves. I think Spain is good enough that even if they give up an occasional counter-attacking goal, they'd be able to score more.

  1. Carlos Thys
    commented on: June 28, 2012 at 3:58 p.m.
    This was a horrible game, if it was indeed a real sporting contest. Just not sure. As I posted elsewhere on this site, I really don't think we are seeing "clean" sport. Because if is somehow is "clean," it is terribly difficult to believe that this game as it is played by the national sides like Spain and the club sides like Chelsea actually has so many worldwide fans.

  1. John Hooper
    commented on: June 28, 2012 at 6:34 p.m.
    @ Carl Hudson: High penalties, done right, are nearly unstoppable. Watch Alan Shearer's PK method. It wasn't subtle (Shearer wasn't the most subtle of players), he just banged them hard, down the center, and just under the bar. I know he missed a few, but I never saw one. It's not the only way to take a penalty, but it is a good one for a skilled finisher.


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