A Seleccao Gracefully Exit the Euros
Paulo Bento made it clear his team would not give up without a fight and that was what his boys did exactly. Hugo Almeida replaced the injured Helder Postiga in Bento’s only modification of his starting line-up. Spain lined up in a 4-3-3 formation with Negredo getting his first start of the tournament. The competition’s youngest referee, a 35-year-old Turk Cuneyt Cakir took charge of the match.
Spain 0 (4) – (2) 0 Portugal
A packed Donbass Arena added spicing to a game which didn’t disappoint. Portugal got off on a good start with their first corner of the game in just two minutes. Veloso’s corner had to be parried by Casillas for another one which the Real Madrid man comfortably held. On nine minutes, Alba burst down the left in the first good chance of the game. His intended cross for Negredo evaded the striker but found Arbeloa who side-footed over from 15 yards. A minute later, Iniesta fired over from range. A swift counter by Portugal saw Ronaldo send a superb cross towards Nani which Casillas did brilliantly to smother. The Counterattack was sparked off by Miguel Veloso who won the ball brilliantly in midfield. Portugal continued to take the game to Spain by brilliantly pressurising them. On 20 minutes, Nani skipped past two players before going to ground with the slightest of touches from Ramos. The referee spotted that and gave nothing. A dauntless attempt by Ronaldo from 30 yards flew into the stands. Portugal continued to threaten with their abundance of pace down the flanks. On 29 minutes, Alonso’s long ball towards Negredo in the box culminated in a shot by Iniesta which went over. The referee awfully failed to use the advantage in the 30th minute, killing a great Portugal chance. Nani dazzled through the Spanish back-line and was set for a run into box but the referee incomprehensibly halted play for an earlier foul, giving Portugal a free kick. Ronaldo drilled a low shot into the side netting in another dandy Portugal move. Nani gave the Portugal faithful a scare on 34 minutes after he was bundled off the ball by Ramos but he shrugged it off. It ended 1-0 at half time.
Portugal continued to press Spain high up the pitch after the restart as the Spaniards failed to attain their usual rhythm. Del Bosque withdrew the ineffective Negredo for Cesc Fabregas on 54 minutes. Almeida wasted a good chance when he decided to go all by himself instead of passing to either Nani or Ronaldo. Almeida replicated the same again in the 59th minute, choosing to shoot as Ronaldo was waiting for a cut-back. Del Bosque made his second change of the night, sending Jesus Navas in for the quiet Silva. Spin had their first shot on target 7 minutes after the hour mark. That was how impressive Portugal was. It fell to Xavi but Patricio made a comfortable save. On 72 minutes, there was huge expectancy on Ronaldo as Portugal won a free kick 30 yards from goal. Ronaldo’s powerful shot from the resultant free kick went inches over the bar. On 77 minutes, Fabregas lashed a free kick into the stands from range. Paulo Bento made his first change of the game with 9 minutes to go, youngster Nelson Oliveira coming on for Almeida. Del Bosque replaced Xavi with Pedro in his last substitution of the game. Ronaldo squandered a great chance on 89 minutes, blazing wide after a delicious move. An uneventful 2nd half ended 0-0 with the game moving to extra time.
Only noteworthy chance in the first period of extra time fell to Iniesta. Pedro and Alba combined down the left with Alba crossing for Iniesta who was free eight yards out but his shot was too close to Patricio who was able to impede the movement of the ball. Spain dominated the second period of extra time, the Portuguese obviously tired but the game wasn’t to be decided until penalties. Spain edged Portugal 4-2 on penalties with Alonso, Moutinho and Bruno Alves missing their spot kicks. Fabregas scored the decisive penalty to send Spain into the final.
Portugal (4-3-3): Patricio; Coentrao, Alves, Pepe, Pereira; Moutinho, Veloso (Custodio 106), Meireles (Varela 112); Ronaldo, Almeida (Oliveira 81), Nani.
Spain (4-3-3): Casillas; Alba, Ramos, Pique, Arbeloa; Alonso, Busquets, Xavi (Pedro 87); Iniesta, Negredo (Fabregas 54), Silva (Navas 60).
POST MATCH THOUGHTS
Portugal was hugely impressive, Paulo Bento’s tactics proving effective. Moutinho was undisputedly the star performer on the night, his hardwork and crunching tackles keeping Portugal in it until the Penalty shoot-out. Ronaldo failed to rise to the occasion, missing a great chance before the end of the second half to put his team ahead. Although they failed to exercise any form of authority in the game, Spain’s remarkable artillery is more than enough to gift them the trophy.
“We were an aggressive and cohesive team. We tried to control the game as much as it was possible. The way we competed, the way we played even though we lost this semi-final allows us to have a lot of confidence and allows the whole country to have confidence. The country is proud of the effort the team showed.” – Portugal coach, Paulo Bento on his team’s loss.
“I want to congratulate Portugal because they played a great tournament, but we were lucky this time.” – Spain coach Del Bosque.