• Thursday, 28 June 2012

    Yesterday at the Euros #17

    Boring has been the buzzword of late. Bizarrely, it's an epithet applied to Spain's football.

    Much has been written on the subject, not least this from James Hunt, and we're not about to go into a great deal of depth here. Suffice to say that it's hardly Spain's fault that other teams are so worried about them that they forget to do what they need to do to win and resort to sitting back and allowing the Spanish the ball. France tried to contain them and it failed. The game was not much of a spectacle as a result.

    So what would Portugal do? They'd have a crack at their neighbours. They came flying out of the blocks, putting the Spanish goal under real pressure early on. In turn, this forced Spain to up their game. The game ebbed and flowed, going from one end to the other. The only trouble was, nobody could find a goal.

    As the game wore on, a goalless draw looked increasingly inevitable as the fear of losing outweighed the desire to win. The one time a really clear-cut opportunity presented itself, it came to Portugal. On the break, they'd engineered a four-on-two opportunity. The standard tactic of 'pass it to Ronaldo' was enacted, but he shanked his shot badly. Extra time came and went - it would be settled by penalties.

    Now, we've gone over penalties many, many times. We've discussed practice, technique, whether goalkeepers should dive or stand still. What we haven't discussed is the order of your first five takers. Surely, your best exponent of the art goes early - certainly in the first three. Spain sent their best - Xabi Alonso - up first. His shot was saved. Step forward Joao Moutinho: also saved. Iniesta finally got one on the board before Pepe and Pique did likewise. Then bizarre decision number one. Bruno Alves had almost got to the penalty spot when Nani caught him up and sent him away. Nani scored, followed by Sergio Ramos with a cheeky Panenka. Up stepped Bruno Alves again. What on earth was going through his mind having been usurped previously is anybody's guess. Off a long run, he absolutely smashed his kick - too much as it turned out and it came back off the bar. Fabregas won it with an unsaveable spot kick, going in off the post. Cameras cut instantly to Ronaldo, Portugal's designated man for the fifth penalty, a penalty that wasn't required.

    The technique on all bar Alves's kick was excellent. Where Portugal fell down was in their selection, their undermining of Bruno Alves and of leaving their best player to take a kick that in any event may not have been needed. That was foolish in the extreme.

    Today, the second semi-final as Germany take on Italy. No German side has beaten Italy at a major championships. It's a brave punter that predicts that run to continue.

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