Euro 2012: Fabregas denies Ronaldo the last kick

_61213555_61213554

Cristiano Ronaldo was billed as the player most likely to make a difference in the first Euro 2012 semi-final but as Spain beat Portugal 4-2 on penalties the tournament’s joint-top scorer did not get a kick – literally.

Cesc Fabregas wins Euro 2012 semi-final for Spain
Fabregas penalty puts Spain into final

Chosen as Portugal’s fifth penalty taker, it was all set for the Real Madrid forward to seal his place among a long line of international greats after both sides failed to score in 120 minutes.

However, when Bruno Alves missed Portugal’s fourth spot-kick to give Spain a 3-2 lead, Cesc Fabregas stepped up to secure Spain’s place in the final leaving Ronaldo as a mere spectator.

The choice to leave their star striker until last came after Portugal had already mixed up the order of their takers. Alves approached the goal ready to take the third penalty but was caught by Nani who told his team-mate that the centre-back would go fourth.

Nani converted, but when Alves returned to penalty spot and crashed the ball against the crossbar, Fabregas clinched Spain’s victory and Ronaldo’s opportunity vanished.

It took until half past midnight local time to get there, but Fabregas, who had scored the winning penalty in the Euro 2008 quarter-final win over Italy, ensured Spain proceeded to a final against Germany or Italy on Sunday and remain on course for an unprecedented third successive tournament victory.

The world champions have now won their past nine knockout games at major tournaments without conceding a goal, and their past 19 competitive matches.

Neither side had produced their fluent best during only the second 0-0 draw of the tournament. At times it was a bad-tempered affair and the apparently inevitable shootout made a nervy start as goalkeepers Rui Patricio and Iker Casillas denied Xabi Alonso and Moutinho respectively in the first round.

It had been billed as a clash of Ronaldo, the ultimate individualist, and Vicente Del Bosque’s finely tuned orchestra – Ronaldo against Spain, Real Madrid against Barcelona, individual brilliance against the collective mastery of the defending world and European champions.

What nobody had accounted for, however, was Spain playing out of tune for long periods – Portugal were the conductors as inspiration gave way to perspiration in Donetsk.

Ronaldo was a constant danger. But at no stage did Spain man-mark him, subject him to rough-house treatment or even cut off the supply from the excellent Moutinho.

Spain’s plan simply was to use the ball to mark Ronaldo, controlling the match through possession in an attempt to render him impotent.

Portugal had other ideas. Their physicality and unswerving desire in midfield prevented Spain settling into their familiar rhythm. At every turn, Xavi and Iniesta found a willing opponent, pressing Spain high up the field and forcing mistake after frustrating mistake.

Though they lost, the Portugal’s pressing game would be a point to ponder to any side wanting to stop the mighthy Spain.

SOURCE: BBC Sport

Spain’s victory in numbers

- Between them Portugal and Spain had four shots on target in two hours of football but did manage 27 shots in all
- Against Portugal, Spain managed a pass completion rate of 75% compared to an average of 91% in Euro 2012 so far
- They were also limited to 6.3 passes per minute, their lowest in the tournament so far after 8.1 against Italy, 9.5 v Republic of Ireland, 7.7 v Croatia and 7 against France
- Spain have conceded just one goal en route to the Euro 2012 final. They have now not let in a goal for 419 minutes
- It is only the second time Spain have won a major tournament game on penalties after beating Italy on their way to winning Euro 2008
- Spain are now 19 competitive games unbeaten since losing their opening 2010 World Cup game against Switzerland

What they said about Spain’s shootout victory:

- “Why did Ronaldo not take a penalty earlier? Waiting for glory maybe!” – Former England striker Ian Wright on Twitter
- “My team-mate [Alves] hit the bar. He thought it was his turn but the coach told me it was my turn.” – Portugal midfielder Nani on the mix-up for Portugal’s third penalty
- “We had this plan and if it would have been 4-4 and he would taken the last penalty we would be talking in a different way.” – Portugal boss Paulo Bento
- “Before the penalty I was talking to the ball. I talked to the ball four years ago [when he scored winning penalty v Italy] and it didn’t let me down.” – Spain’s winning penalty taker Cesc Fabregas.
- “Whatever you think about penalty shoot-outs, they can salvage a dire game! Thrilling finale.” – Former England striker and Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker on Twitter