Thursday, June 28, 2012

Portuguese men o' war fail to stop the Spanish succession

SpainFor a while, it looked like the last day of Spain's empire.

Portugal's attack-minded approach in yesterday's Euro 2012 semi-final had freaked the world champions into launching hit-and-hope clearances. Tiki-taka was only a memory as the white shirts of the Lusitanians squeezed the space between defence and midfield and closed down the Spaniards ferociously throughout the first half.

But no goals ensued, and precious few shots on target either. By extra-time, the Portuguese gamble had failed as Spain found a new lease of life and their usual rhythm again, while their Iberian neighbours played second fiddle and hoped for success via Cristiano Ronaldo's set-pieces. Paolo Bento's men still had a chance to win via spot-kicks but their plan backfired embarrassingly.

Iker Casillas saved from Joao Moutinho and a mix-up in running order between Bruno Alves and Nani seemed to have unnerved the centre-back, who then hit the bar. Cesc Fabregas fired in the winner off the post to leave Ronaldo cursing as the unused fifth penalty-taker. Will another of football's great players retire without an international trophy in his cabinet?

Portugal exit the tournament with credit however for having taken on the best two teams, Germany and Spain with a positive game-plan. Instead of defending and hoping for a break, they attacked the Germans and Spanish with pace and skill, but ended up on the losing side both times, luck having deserted them.

Spain meanwhile, look ever more vulnerable in their title defence but keep on winning while playing badly, a sure sign of a successful outfit.

Portugal's tactics dazed and confused them for an hour and a half, while the inclusion in the starting lineup of Alvaro Negredo, who proved ineffectual, baffled when the likes of Cesc Fabregas, Fernando Llorente, Juan Mata and Fernando Torres remained on the bench.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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