Euro 2012: The Semi-Finals – Spain 0-0 Portugal (Spain Win 4-2 On Penalty Kicks)
So it was all about Cristiano Ronaldo doing nothing. And I pilloried BBC commentators for fawning over him even while he was doing nothing, when they’d actually spotted the defining moment of Portugal’s tournament. “Look at Ronaldo, just waiting for his opportunity” said Steve Wilson, midway through the stultifying second half against Spain. An hour later, he was still waiting, as Cesc Fabregas’s scuffed spot-kick snuck in off a post, where Bruno Alves’s thunderously well-struck effort moments earlier had cannoned back off the crossbar. Spain’s victory was the inside of the width of the frame of the goal and Ronaldo could do nothing about it. “He fancied the big moment,” noted Gary Lineker in the BBC corner-flag cubbyhole, on Ronaldo being the fifth, rather than the first, Portuguese shoot-out penalty-taker. “I don’t understand it,” bleated Shearer, blandly unaware that he’d just heard the explanation.
Portugal’s penalties had already raised eyebrows when burly centre-back Alves strode confidently forward to take their third kick, only to be overhauled in the final furlong by Nani, whose turn it actually was. The defender was blamed by the pundits for his stupidity, as they always do – hence the surprise that Sergio Ramos had both the composure and the intelligent to chip-drive his spot-kick down the middle of the goal. But Nani must have been at least as culpable. For once, though, the squanderer of the vital kick will be forgotten. Ronaldo will make the headlines – the TV cameras followed him off the pitch, rather than focus on a possibly tearful Alves, which would have been a sight to remember. And he’ll make them for doing absolutely nothing at all.
Mind you, he was far from alone in a game which fell short of expectation, despite some early promise. The Portuguese “pressed high up the pitch” from the kick-off and refused to let Spain settle, which surprised them and left commentators Steve Wilson and Martin Keown awestruck. It was as if they were watching Accrington “getting stuck in” to Arsenal in the FA Cup, rather than one of the tournament’s form teams against the slightly below-par favourites. But we soon had a tactical stalemate, with Portugal wasting the possession they pressed out of Spain, who lost their rhythm under that pressure. “Well, well, well,” noted Wilson, as Gerard Pique shanked one pass. Of course, Pique isn’t a renowned passer, but by half-time, Xavi didn’t look like one either.
It didn’t help that both teams’ strikers seemed sculpted from the same statue. Wilson and Keown mused aloud that Fernando Torres had “every right to feel frustrated” at being left on the bench while Alvaro Negredo made up Spain’s numbers on the pitch. Fernando Llorente, scorer of three times as many goals as Torres last season, would have had “every right to feel” more frustrated. But Llorente doesn’t play in the Premier League. Assuming that the Ukrainian TV director shared his Premier League-obsession, Wilson said: “we’ll surely get a close-up of Torres on the bench.” He didn’t. So we didn’t. Meanwhile, Ronaldo, was “quicksilver… he’s through your fingers” as he kicked full-back Daniel Arbeloa and fell over. And Keown surmised that “he probably took that on because everything else has come off for him in the tournament,” as one Ronaldo shot flew skyward, clearly forgetting his misses against Denmark.
For all Portugal’s efforts, Spain had more of the few first-half chances, Arbeloa firing over the best of them. Wilson found it “fascinating”, while Lineker settled for the more accurate “interesting rather than exhilarating.” “That was rubbish,” ventured Lineker at full-time, which was more accurate still. But we always had Ronaldo. “They’re frightened to death of him, aren’t they?” asked Wilson as Ronaldo fell over for another free-kick. “They should cast that pose in bronze and put it outside the Bernabeu,” he continued, as Ronaldo prepared to take that kick. “Is this his moment?” he asked, as Ronaldo ran up. “………” he added, as the ball flew harmlessly over. And when Ronaldo had a glorious chance to win the game on 90 minutes, he sliced it onto what could have been called “Hugo Almeida Row”, so often had Portugal’s striker fired shots into it, thirty yards high and five yards wide. It was “not good enough,” when Almeida did it. It was the ball’s fault – “the ball was moving away from him” – when Ronaldo did it.
It kept moving away from him during extra-time too. All the talk in the commentary and punditry boxes was of Portugal’s advantage, having had “an extra two days” since their quarter-final, which overlooked the fact that Spain had, at times literally, strolled to victory against France. And after 90 minutes “pressing high up the pitch,” the Portuguese tired first, and fast. Spain had Jesus Navas and Pedro Rodriguez to come on and stretch the game. Portugal…didn’t. “Still no centre-forward, though,” moaned Keown, unable to fathom Spain’s formation. A proper broadcast journalist, at the tournament, would have seen the system, asked how it was supposed to work…and told us. But…you know the rest. All the licence-payers’ money saved by keeping the pundits in Salford until the knock-out stages…wasted on Keown. “Portugal have stopped playing, they’re out on their feet,” noted Wilson, correctly. This gave Spain more space to find their passes, but didn’t stop Wilson wondering why Spain hadn’t “done this half-an-hour ago,” even though he’d just told us. Dear me.
Portuguese keeper Rui Patricio began to morph into a potential “unlikely match-winner” with three fabulous saves; two in extra-time, from Iniesta and Navas, and one of the finest penalty saves I’ve ever seen, from Xabi Alonso’s well-struck and well-directed shoot-out opener. But Spain’s Iker Casillas saved Joao Moutinho’s less well-struck and directed spot-kick, and it went downhill for Portugal thereafter. Spain’s squad formed a celebration pile-up after Fabregas’s winning-kick as the big screen focused on a well-groomed youngster in a Portuguese shirt, teeth gritted in frustration like Bob Hoskins at the end of The Long Good Friday, doing absolutely nothing at all.
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