Euro Cup 2012: semifinals
Spain vs. Portugal
Portugal was seeking its first Euro Cup title; Spain was seeking its third major championship in a row. Both teams had played splendid soccer, but both teams needed to prove something more to themselves. Christiano Ronaldo hit his stride in the previous two games, scoring three goals in two matches. Spain has continued to thrive on its one-touch passing, quick movements around the box and its ability to get everyone involved. During the 90 minutes of play, neither team played at the level they were known for playing at. Spain had 57 percent of possession–its second lowest time of possession in the tournament. Spain’s passing was slopping, and it often gave the ball away in the last third of the field. Jordi Alba had another stellar game, making runs up the left side and crossing the ball into the box. However, Spain couldn’t capitalize and its last ball was lacking.
Spain opted to play a 4-5-1, but started Alvaro Negredo in place of Fernando Torres. Negredo, who only played a minute in the tournament prior to this start, did not provide a spark to the Spanish offense and remained static at the top of the pitch. In the 55th minute, Vicente del Bosque replaced Negredo with Cesc Fabregas, who provided Spain with the quick angled runs the team lacked in the first half. Portugal held its own during the game, taking 10 shots (2 on target) and holding 43 percent of possession. Spain was unable to break Portugal’s back line of Pepe and Bruno Alves, who had height and strength over the Spanish front line.
After 90 minutes of play, the match ended 0-0 and was headed for 30 minutes of extra time–the second game of the tournament to go into extra time. In extra time, Spain began to play with an urgency we haven’t seen it play with thus far in the tournament. Spain worked the Portuguese defense, and had some great opportunities to score, including a shot by Andres Iniesta off a run and cross by Jordi Alba. But Rui Patricio made a beautiful stretching save to keep the score tied at 0-0.
Extra time ended and the game went into penalty kicks. Xabi Alonso went first for Spain. Alonso, who made a penalty kick in the game against France, went right instead of left and was stopped by Rui Patricio. João Moutinho had his PK blocked by Iker Casillas. Iniesta and Pepe both put their PK’s into the back of the net, keeping the PK score tied 1-1. Gerard Piqué converted his PK to give Spain a 2-1 advantage. Central defensive player Alves was all set to take Portugal’s third PK, but was called back in place of Nani. Nani scored tying the PK’s at two apiece. Sergio Ramos, who ripped a PK 10 meters over the crossbar in the Champions League semifinal against Bayern Munich, stepped up to take Spain’s fourth PK. Ramos chipped the ball over a diving Rui Patricio–a PK that eerily resembled Andrea Pirlo’s PK in the quarterfinals against England.
In perhaps its most shocking move of the tournament, Portugal sent Alves up to take a must-make PK. The pressure was on the Portuguese central back, a player known more for his physical play than his goal scoring abilities. Alves hit the ball into the crossbar giving Spain a 3-2 advantage with Fabregas up next for Spain. Fabregas shot a low, driving ball to the right as Rui Patricio guessed left. Spain won 4-2. Ronaldo, who was set to take Portugal’s fifth penalty shot never got the chance. It’s still unknown whether it was Paulo Bento’s decision or Ronaldo’s decision for him to shoot last. Either way, Portugal will be hearing about this poor decision making for the next few months. And Ronaldo, who had begun to show the prowess he showed for Real Madrid, and finally began to show critics that this year could be his year for a major championship, has taken leaps backwards with this mistake.
Italy vs. Germany
Super Mario strikes again. Mario Balotelli scored two goals in the first half of the game and upset Euro Cup favorites, Germany, despite Germany holding 54 percent of the possession. In the 20th minute, Antonio Cassano sent a perfect floating cross into the box and Balotelli leaped in front of Holger Badstuber to head the ball past goalkeeper Manuel Neuer. In the 36th minute, Riccardo Montolivo sent a ball over the top of the defense to Balotelli who was making a run behind the defense. Balotelli fired a dipping shot from the edge of the box past Neuer to give Italy a 2-0 lead. Balotelli’s goals came after the striker received criticism for missed opportunities earlier in the tournament.
In the first 15 minutes Germany had plenty of opportunities. Gianluigi Buffon bobbled two easy saves, one which almost resulted in an own goal. Buffon initially looked nervous, as if this was his first Euro Cup game ever, but he looked like his usual self in the second half.
In the second half, Germany substituted in Miroslav Klose and Marco Reus to provide a more offensive lineup. Reus almost had an immediate impact when he took a free kick from a dangerous position right outside the box. The free kick went over the wall and dipped towards the goal. Buffon redeemed himself from his earlier mistakes and, in full stretch, blocked the free kick. Eventually, Germany placed three in the back, but could still not convert on opportunities.
In the 91st minute, Germany was awarded a penalty kick for a handball in Italy’s box. Mesut Özil converted the PK with three minutes left in stoppage time, but Italy held the Germans off, beating them 2-1.
Spain will play Italy in the Euro Cup Final, a rematch of the first game from Group C.