Cristiano Ronaldo wanted to be the fifth kicker for Portugal, the hero. Instead, he didn’t even get a chance to shoot, as Cesc Fabregas scored Spain’s fifth penalty and sent them to their second consecutive Euro final after a rather dull 0-0 Semifinal.
Portugal showed how to play against Spain. Simply not fear them, and pressure them early and often with all three central midfielder. Joao Moutinho and Miguel Veloso simply eliminated Xabi Alonso and Xavi, while Andres Iniesta couldn’t find too many players to feed when he finally broke free.
Portugal didn’t hang back and wait for Spain to take over the pitch, simply staring the beast in its eyes. Portugal were probably the better team in the second half, while Del Bosque showed either incompetence or vanity with is lineup and substitutions. Spain only started dominating the pitch in extra time, when Ronaldo and Nani were too tired and exhausted to push forward when Portugal had the ball.
No Latin flair, no fantasy football. Tactics, tactics, tactics. This was a great midfield battle, maybe the first time Spain actually lost one in this tournament and generally in a very very long time. The Spanish were just as afraid to lose this match as Portugal were, and didn’t send too many players forward. But the two biggest things to notice – Spain didn’t concede a goal once again, and Spain actually played better without Xavi.
Because that freed up the middle, and allowed the ball to start moving to the wings. There’s no reason in keeping it short and in the middle with both Pedro and Jesus Navas on the pitch. Portugal looked actually unprepared for such an event, and lost their hold on the game, allowing Spain to create dangerous opportunities from the wings. A striker, instead of Cesc Fabregas, who did nothing before the penalty shootout, would have done better with these crosses, hypothetically.
And the finishing touch will be Cristiano Ronaldo. He was closely watched for the entire 120 minutes, and spent a lot of energy pressing and defending. But besides his free kicks never really threatened Casillas. Does it mean he’s a choker? No. It just means that the absolute definitions mean nothing. He didn’t have the best of matches, but the fact that he didn’t take an early penalty kick will stick to him, no matter the reason behind it.