Euro 2020: Day 22
The final game in Saint Petersburg saw the first quarter final of the competition, as Spain and Switzerland, both needing extra time in their last 16 games, faced off in the Gazprom Arena for a place in the semi-finals. Spain manager Luis Enrique for once opted to stick with the same front three as he played against Croatia, after constant rotation in the previous games, although there was a change at the back as Pau Torres came in alongside Laporte. Switzerland were forced into a change with Granit Xhaka, so influential in the game against France, suspended, Zakaria coming in, while 2 goal hero Haris Seferović once again led the line.
Both sides enjoyed the ball early on, Switzerland looking to employ the high press, while Spain as always comofortable to play a more possession based game, waiting for chances and gaps to appear. The majority of the early threat from both sides came down the wings, but it was a set piece that broke the deadlock. A corner on the right from Spain fell to Jordi Alba at the edge of the box, and as his shot flashed by Denis Zakaria stuck out of foot, his contact enough to wrong foot Sommer and send the ball beyond his helpless keeper.
An almost carbon copy then allowed César Azpilicueta a free header in the box, but his effort was straight at Sommer, who was grateful to hold the ball this time. Switzerland’s best chances in the first half also came from corners, Shaqiri on point with the delivery and first Akanji and then Elvedi failing to trouble Unai Simón in the Spanish goal, the first half ending with Spain just about on top and in the lead thanks to that own goal early on.
Spain made a change at half-time, Dani Olmo being sent on in place of Pablo Sarabia on the wing. Zakaria almost made up for his earlier error 10 minutes into the second half as he got his head on the end of another set piece for Switzerland, the ball just going wide of the Spanish upright with everyone beaten. Simón then had to be at his best to deny Zuber just after the hour mark, the midfielder trying to loop one beyond the keeper after being slipped through by Vargas down the left hand side as the Swiss continued to probe for an equaliser.
4 minutes later Switzerland found themselves level, a defensive mix-up by Spain handing them a golden opportunity to pull level, the ball rebounding off Torres and Laporte as they failed to clear their lines, into the path of Freuler, who then slid the ball across for Xherdan Shaqiri to apply the finish from close range, sidefooting beyond Simón into the far corner.
Switzerland appeared to have Spain on the ropes as the defence seemed to lack composure as they pushed forward in search of a second, although they then found their cohesion again as the game entered the last 20 minutes, Azpilicueta with a telling ball across the goalmouth that no-one was on the end of, while Dani Olmo was beginning to make things happen on the other side.
The drama then unfolded further as Remo Freuler was shown a straight red card for a late tackle on Gerard Moreno, going in extremely forcefully and with his feet raised when making contact, meaning Switzerland, who played 120 minutes in their last game, would have to play the remainder of this clash with 10 men. Despite the extra man, Spain were unable to press home any advantage as Switzerland held on for the draw, meaning both sides would once again face another 30 minutes of football in Russia.
Spain had a great opportunity just 2 minutes into extra time, Jordi Alba down the right putting one on a plate for substitute striker Gerard Moreno, but the striker flashed it wide from close range when he should have put his nation 2-1 in front. Alba then forced a save from Sommer, his shot from distance forcing the Switzerland keeper to tip over his crossbar as Spain looked to turn the screw.
Dani Olmo then saw an effort deflected, striking Moreno leaving Sommer once again wrong footed, but this time the ball went wide of the upright to the relief of the Bundesliga keeper, who was beaten in normal time by that deflected strike from Jordi Alba. Llorrente then had a shot blocked before Moreno headed wide, Spain really starting to make their dominance count but once again struggling to convert their chances into goals.
Moreno was then denied by Sommer after a ball over the top fell to the striker, once again denied although this time credit should go to the keeper. 5 minutes into the second half of extra time, Rodriguez produced an excellent block to deny Llorrente as the second half began as the first had ended, Sommer then on hand again to claim the ball from another Spanish attack, in what was becoming a familiar sight as the clock ticked down towards penalties. Sommer showed great concentration, equal to anything thrown at him, and as the chances dwindled away Switzerland were once again left facing the lottery of a penalty shoot-out, a scenario that clearly favoured them given their progress in a shoot-out last time out, while Spain had missed their previous 5 penalties, including 2 against Switzerland.
Spain continued their dire record as Busquets failed to score, Switzerland scoring their first and gaining the upper hand, before Dani Olmo finally ended the run of consecutive misses by smashing home to make it all square. Schar then had his saved before Sommer was once again a hero, denying Rodri after pointing one way and diving the other to make the stop. The rollercoaster continued as Akanji, who scored in the shoot-out against France, had his effort saved by Simón.
Moreno was the fourth taker for Spain, penalty taker for his club and he made no mistake, although he had missed one previously for his country, to take Spain ahead for the first time in the shoot-out. Vargas was next up for Switzerland, the substitute firing over the bar to give Spain the chance to progress with their final penalty, the duty falling to Oyarzabal, his left footed penalty sending Sommer the wrong way and Spain through to the semi-finals of the competition once more.
The Allianz Arena host to the clash between the two highest placed sides, as Belgium faced Italy for a place in the semi-finals, both sides enjoying a 100% record in the group stages before Italy needed extra time to edge past Austria, Belgium sending home reigning champions Portugal in their last 16 tie. It was a game in which many of the players and managers were familiar with edge other, and that was pretty much the way the opening 10 minutes played out, both sides looking to test the water.
Italy thought they had edged in front 13 minutes in, a free kick from the right flicked on by Chiellini before being finished by his defensive partner Leonardo Bonucci from close range, but despite the celebrations the Italy defender had edged offside and the officials made the right call in disallowing the goal after VAR checks were complete. Veratti then became the first player to have his name taken, as both sides battled to take control of the midfield, Tielemans drawing the found and the first yellow card for Italy.
Manchester City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne then drove forward, looking to make something happen, his effort from range drawing the save from Donnarumma, the first shot on target for Belgium but it was never really going to trouble the AC Milan keeper.
De Bruyne then turned provider for Lukaku, the Internazionale striker drawing another save from his cross city rival, who got down well to tip the effort wide of the post with a strong hand, yielding a corner which Italy cleared well and then countered Belgium, putting their opponents under some pressure at the back. Half an hour in Italy did took the lead, and this time it did count. Belgium failed to clear the danger from a free kick, and quick pressing saw the ball fall for Nicolò Barella inside the area, the Internazionale midfielder showing superb feet to create the space and fire across Courtois to give Italy the lead.
Italy had a second just before the break, and it was a goal of some brilliance by Lorenzo Insigne, who picked up the ball and made it happen himself, weaving inside the Belgian defending and unleashing a curling effort that flew past Courtois, despite the Real Madrid keeper being at full stretch, to nestle into the far corner of the net, a quite wonderful strike from the Napoli man.
Desipte Italy doubling the lead just moments before the interval, there was still time for Belgium to hit back, the pace of Jeremy Doku causing Di Lorenzo problems, the Italy full back pushing him just inside the area giving the referee no option but to point to the spot. Romelu Lukaku stepped up, and with Donnarumma diving he sent his penalty straight down the middle in what proved to be the last action of the half, giving Belgium renewed hope for the second half of the tie in Munich.
Italy looked to control possession in the second half, with Belgium reduced to trying to grab something on the break, and they almost did when Doku slipped De Bruyne in on the left hand side, and his cross found Lukaku at the far post, but the Internazionale striker failed to make a clean collection and his shot came back off Leonardo Spinazzola who had done brilliantly to get back onto the line, his team-mates full of praise after the ball was cleared for a corner. At the other end Immobile continued to offer an outlet, but as he began to tire his shooting and control became more wayward.
Belgium sent on Nacer Chadli and he almost made an immediate impact, his ball across the box failing to be converted at the far post as Italy looked exposed. However, minutes later Chadli went down, clearly struggling with a muscle injury, making it a short cameo for the former Spurs man, Leicester midfielder Dennis Praet coming on in his place, while Belotti was sent on for Italy. Italy then lost Spnazzola to injury, the full back stretchered off, another appearing to have suffered an injury rather than being involved in a heavy tackle, Emerson being sent on in his place.
Doku then showed a glimpse of his talent as he once again used his pace to unsettle the Italy defence, cutting across the back four before firing just over as Belgium looked for an equaliser in the final 10 minutes of the game. A free kick just outside the box offered them hope, Berardi picking up a booking for not being 10 yards the first time Kevin De Bruyne fired one in, before Donnarumma was then cleaned out the second time the ball was put into the area, ending the danger with just minutes left to play, the big keeper staying down some time.
With additional time at the end of stoppage time, Courtois came up as Belgium had one last corner, but it proved to come to nothing as Italy played down the clock to secure the victory and progress into the semi-final stages for the 6th time in the competition, some turnaround from Mancini and his men after the country’s failure to even qualify for the last World Cup. Italy will now face Spain in what will be another thrilling encounter in the semi-finals at Wembley next week, while Belgium must once again look to rebuild, the golden generation and number one ranked International side in the world once again failing to win in a major competition.
England and Denmark look like the favourites to be joining them, but this tournament has already provided many shocks, so both will need to be at their best to overcome Ukraine and the Czech Republic respectively if they hope to face off at Wembley in the other semi-final and the chance to meet Italy or Spain in the final next Sunday.Share this: