ST. PETERSBURG, Russia – It was the game that had it all, followed by a penalty shootout that flipped one way and then the other. At the end of 120 energy-consuming and psychologically exhausting minutes, Spain took their chance – and Switzerland saw theirs run out – to claim a place in the Euro 2020 semi-finals after a 3-1 victory on penalties after a 1-1 draw.
They played “London Calling” from The Clash on the stadium sound system seconds before the shootout started, if only to put more pressure on the takers by reminding them of precisely what was at stake: a semi-final against Belgium or Italy at Wembley on July 6. As nerves plagued both groups of players, the price of a semi-final (and maybe even a place in the final) ended up with Spain thanks to two shootout saves from the keeper Unai simon and a capricious attempt by a Swiss substitute Ruben Vargas, who sent his shot over the crossbar.
Mikel Oyarzabal could have hit the decisive penalty, but Simon made the difference.
Friday’s loss was tough for Switzerland, especially for the goalkeeper Yann Sommer, who made a series of crucial saves late in the game to lead him on penalties. the Borussia Monchengladbach n ° 1, including the rescue of Kylian Mbappé sealed Monday’s shootout victory against France, looked set to be the match winner again when he stood on the sidelines Rodri‘s spot kick during their penalty drama. But having played with 10 men since the 77th minute after the midfielder Remo Freuler was dismissed for contestation on Gerard Moreno – replays showed it was a tough decision from England referee Michael Oliver, but it was not challenged by VAR – Switzerland simply couldn’t repeat their exploits against the French in Bucharest by eliminating Luis Enrique’s team.
“I am really proud of the team”, the Swiss midfielder xherdan Shaqiri mentionned. “The penalties are a bit 50-50, and I was nervous watching the shootout. I think we just ran out of luck today.”
Meanwhile, Spain goalkeeper Simon, beaten by Shaqiri to equalize Switzerland in the second half, insisted his side deserved to qualify, saying: “We are deserved winners.”
In terms of possession and chances created, Simon is probably right, but Switzerland must be honored for refusing to collapse after Freuler’s red card. For the second time in just four days, both teams were forced to undergo extra time as the competition’s round of 16 continued to test every element of their physical abilities. But Switzerland’s challenge was much greater than that of Spain.
More could be done once the tournament is over, but no team has suffered from the logistical nightmare of hosting the competition in 11 different European cities across the continent more than Switzerland. While Spain made three home group matches in Sevilla and moved to Madrid, before coming to that quarter-final in Russia with a victory against Croatia in Copenhagen, Denmark, Vladimir Petkovic’s Swiss team had covered more than 7,000 miles in less than three weeks thanks to a schedule that took them from Baku to Rome, back to Baku, Bucharest and finally to Saint Petersburg.
The fact that Switzerland were able to bring Spain on penalties, with a one-man disadvantage and so many extra miles on the clock, testifies to the collective unity of Petkovic’s team. They are not a star team, but you will have to look long and hard to find another side with the work ethic and commitment displayed by Switzerland at Euro 2020.
Switzerland also has a fighting spirit. They fought back 3-1 against France and had to overturn Spain’s opener in the 8th minute in St. Petersburg after Jordi albaSommer’s 20-yard shot was deflected by Denis zakaria.
Having scored so early, Spain should have capitalized on Switzerland’s fatigue and increased their score, but this Spanish side is a contradiction. He scores goals, but he can’t score goals. Spain had reached 10 goals in their last two games, against Croatia and Slovakia, but without a quality striker, their goals always seem to come out of nowhere, or through some unexpected mistake or stroke of genius. Alvaro Morata continues to appear weighed down by the burden of playing as a center forward; He lasted just 55 minutes on Friday before being replaced by Moreno, who engaged in a losing battle with Sommer who saw the keeper save whatever he sent.
Kelly Cates, Tim Howard and Alessandro Del Piero react to Spain’s shootout victory over Switzerland.
For the rest, Spain is doing well and has a high quality in Pedro and Ferran Torres, but as a team they just look pedestrian and unimaginative. It is a group of actors who do not have an identity or a clear roadmap wherever they go. Still, Spain manager Luis Enrique adopted a defiant tone after the game, insisting his side have what it takes to win the competition.
“If there is a team ready to overcome adversity, it is ours,” he said. “We are one of the four favorites to win Euro 2020 on our own merits.”
Spain managed to advance to the semi-finals by stumbling through a weak section of the draw, and they couldn’t finish the Swiss before the shootout despite the one man advantage for the final 43 minutes . Their lack of zip and physical presence will surely see them reach the end of the line against Belgium or Italy in the semi-finals. Whenever Luis Enrique’s players face a real heavyweight opponent, they seem to lose. But if this Spanish team is only the shadow of its recent predecessors, it has at least put an end to the Spanish failures in the big tournaments.
Since winning Euro 2012, Spain have suffered a group stage elimination at Brazil 2014 and did not make it past the knockout stages of Euro 2016 or Russia 2018. They reached the semi-finals of Euro 2020, out of sheer will, but it is hard to believe that they will go further .