Spain need shootout to see off Switzerland

Mikel Oyarzabal gets Spain over the line and into Euro 2020 semi-finals

 Spain’s players celebrate after winning the shootout against Switzerland. Photograph: Getty Images

Spain’s players celebrate after winning the shootout against Switzerland. Photograph: Getty Images

 

Switzerland 1 Spain 1 (Spain win 3-1 on penalties)

This time, penalties were a bridge too far for Switzerland. They took Spain all the way, riding their luck with a heroic rearguard action after Remo Freuler was sent off towards the end of normal time, but it is Luis Enrique’s side who stand two wins from European supremacy. In truth Spain were largely disappointing, failing to build on Denis Zakaria’s early own goal and deservedly being pegged back by Xherdan Shaqiri. But they held their nerve in a shootout full of tired spot kicks, missing two of their own but pulling through when Mikel Oyarzabal scored after Ruben Vargas blazed horribly over.

Given the Swiss conceded so quickly, the fear for them was that, even taking into account the late heroics they produced against France, their tilt at a first semi-final could be over as soon as it began. The manner in which they went behind felt particularly unfortunate given Zakaria was playing only because of Granit Xhaka’s absence, a harsh consequence of receiving two yellow cards earlier in the tournament. Nobody who watched Xhaka pull the midfield strings so masterfully in Bucharest had doubted that, no matter how many bullish noises might emanate from the Swiss camp, he would be sorely missed but the point was hammered home cruelly.

Koke appeared to have overhit a right-sided corner, the ball sailing over Aymeric Laporte’s optimistic jump, but Jordi Alba was stationed to salvage the situation five yards outside the penalty area. From left of centre he tried his luck and, had Zakaria not wafted out a leg that duly diverted the shot past Yann Sommer, the outcome would not have been memorable. Sommer had no chance; Luis Enrique, who had generously said beforehand that he would have preferred Xhaka to be available, could be happy his wish was unfulfillable.

Alba could be rather less gratified that the goal, which would have been his first at international level for almost four years, was credited to Zakaria. He had returned to the starting XI in José Gayà’s place and scented blood again while Switzerland were still reeling, overlapping for a low centre that was hacked away. An added frustration for Switzerland was that they had not started badly.

Within a minute of the start Shaqiri, captain for the day, had driven into a chasm in front of Spain’s defence but failed to threaten Unai Simón with his shot. Shaqiri appeared to find it tricky to bring the ball with him on a slow, patchy surface that has staged six games this summer. Both teams had trained elsewhere the previous day to give the surface a breather but it did not help the game to flow, while forcing snatched clearances at both ends after attempts to build from defence faltered.

Spain were happy to use their near three-quarter share of possession to control rather than batter at the door, a César Azpilicueta header their only subsequent chance; a brief flurry of pressure after the half-hour from Switzerland brought wayward attempts from Manuel Akanji and Silvan Widmer, but they rarely looked capable of causing alarm. Their chances of doing so decreased further midway through the half when Breel Embolo, their impressive forward, departed through injury.

Spain’s attack had been quiet, a fact that perhaps explained Dani Olmo’s arrival in place of Pablo Sarabia for the second half. Olmo quickly drew a save from Sommer, but was flagged offside; it was a suggestion proceedings might open up.

From Switzerland’s perspective they had to. Corners appeared their best route back and, from one, Shaqiri attempted to catch out Simon but found the side netting. His reaction suggested he had fancied his chances. Then Zakaria came agonisingly close to a moment of redemption, climbing highest from another set piece to head firmly across Simon only to miss by inches.

Now they were making a game of it. Shortly after the hour Steven Zuber was cleverly played in by Ruben Vargas, who had replaced Embolo, and forced Simon into a smart save at his near post. It was a warning shot for Spain, who did not heed it quickly enough.

The equaliser was a disaster for Spain’s defence, Laporte reaching a lofted pass forwards but knocking it straight into his centre-back partner Pau Torres. Suddenly Freuler found himself free; he kept his cool to offer a pass to his left that went through Azpilicueta’s, offering Shaqiri a chance he coolly slid beyond Simon.

Freuler’s contribution was his last. With 14 minutes left he clattered into the substitute GerardMoreno and was stunned when Michael Oliver dismissed him. Freuler did not raise his studs and appeared to win the ball; perhaps Oliver decided he had used excessive force and VAR agreed.

It was a gift for Spain. They belatedly rediscovered some initiative but could not avoid extra-time. Moreno should have scored two minutes into it but shinned Alba’s centre wide; Alba then marauded again and Sommer palmed over.

A winner began to appear a matter of time. Sommer saved superbly from Moreno at close quarters, then parried Oyarzabal’s curler. Next Ricardo Rodríguez made a sensational block from Marcos Llorente and, at the death, Moreno fluffed his lines again. He was among those to convert from the spot, though, and Spain squeaked through. - Guardian

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