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Portugal Euro 2012: Heartbreak in Donetsk – Portugal 0-0 Spain (2-4 pens)

Portugal were left to rue their missed chances as they were cruelly knocked out of Euro 2012 on penalties in a match that they dominated from the start.

The game was fast, the Portuguese were faster but despite being to be able to do something no other team had managed – playing Spain at their own game – the Selecção will be left to rue the way they threw away what was an opportunity handed to them on a plate by the Spanish.

Portugal did far more than contain their neighbours, who were decidedly off the boil until late on, but in football’s cruellest lottery, the Selecção came up short.

Bizarrely the game could be remembered as the match were a player was made to make his penalty walk-up twice, ultimately costing Portugal a place in the final.

Spain are now on track to win their third consecutive European Championship trophy.

Portugal were forced to make their first change of the tournament before the game. Helder Postiga, who picked up a thigh injury during the win over Czech Republic, was replaced by Hugo Almedia. Spain also made one change with Alvaro Negredo coming into the side for Cesc Fabregas. Negredo had played just one minute in the tournament so far so his selection wouldn’t have gone down well with Fernando Torres.

Spain started the game but it was Portugal who dominated early possession with their first shot of the match coming after just two minutes from Miguel Veloso which was followed by a flurry of corners although none of these resulted to anything dangerous.

Portugal’s plan seemed to be to knock Spain out of their normal rhythm which was reasonably effective although the Spanish were still very dangerous on the break.  The first real chance of the game came from the Spanish as they raced down the left and whipped in a zippy pass which Alvaro Arbeloa was on the end of but his shot faded just over the bar. Andres Iniesta then had a pop from further out but his effort was even higher than the first attempt.

Ronaldo had his first go on the ball on 15 minutes as he was unleashed down the left by Veloso. Automatically you could sense the expectation and fear form either side of the crowd as he set off and played a cross in to Nani who failed to make contact.

Spain were frustrated. Portugal were on top and the Spanish didn’t like it. Every time Spain were in possession they were quickly closed down as the Portuguese grew in confidence and spirit. That said the Spanish had the talent to open up the Portuguese backline as Andres Iniesta was given a sight of goal from the edge of the area but his curling effort was just a yard over the bar. At the other end Ronaldo came agonisingly close to goal as his shot from the edge of the area was low but just the side of the post. This match was turning into a real battle between two evenly matched teams.

Spain’s fluency had completely deserted them, partly due to their own failings but mainly because Portugal were disrupting them at every opportunity.

HALF-TIME: PORTUGAL 0-0 SPAIN

The second half began exactly like the first with Portugal playing high up the field, troubling Spain and dominating all the attacking chances. Spain weren’t troubling Portugal’s defence but they were remaining solid at the back. Spain’s coach, Vicente del Bosque, responded by making an early substitute bringing on Cesc Fabregas for Alvaro Negredo. I wonder if del Bosque was regretting changing his frontman before the game. Five minutes later Spain made another change as Jesus Navas came on for David Silva.

In between the two changes Portugal had two good openings for Almeida. The first came as Almedia struck from 25 yards instead of passing to Ronaldo who was in a much better attacking position. The second came as Ronaldo set him off down the left and shot wide again instead of passing back to the winger who was screaming for the ball. Perhaps Almeida was blinded by the bright lights or just going out for his own glory.

As the minutes ticked by it was clear that both teams were becoming wary that conceding a goal at this stage would have dire consequences. They were both snatching at chances aware of how important they could be. One hour into the game Spain finally had their first shot on goal! Xavi drove in a shot as Rui Patricio who gratefully clutched the ball to his chest. Minutes later Almeida was working at his game play to make a name for himself again as he shot from distance instead of passing to Ronaldo who screamed at him in fury.

On 72 minutes Ronaldo almost got his chance when Portugal won a free-kick 30 yards from goal but his strike was a yard over the bar. Paulo Bento then decided he had had enough of Almeida as he replaced him with Nelson Oliveira. Ronaldo then had another chance from a free-kick which again flew just over. This was followed by Spain making their final substitution as Pedro was brought on for Xavi meaning neither Fernando Torres nor Fernando Llorente would be making an appearance for Spain.

The last minute of the half was the most dramatic as Spain won a free-kick which Alonso took but Portugal headed away and suddenly broke towards goal. It was four Portuguese forwards versus two Spanish defenders as Meireles found Ronaldo…but he blasted over! It seems if Meireles would have passed to Oliveira instead, who was in more space, Portugal would have had a better shot on goal.

END OF 90 MINUTES: PORTUGAL 0-0 SPAIN

Spain finally came to live at the start of extra-time and were straight on the attack as Jesus Navas drove a low cross to the near post from the right. Spain were now dominating possession and racing forward at every opportunity but the Portuguese defence were standing strong with the Spanish crosses rarely beating the first man.

Portugal’s heart would have been in their mouth 13 minutes into extra-time when Andres Iniesta skipped into the box to collect a flicked pass and looked certain to poke his side ahead until Patricio superply got down to push the shot away Spain then won a free-kick 25 yards from goal which Sergio Ramos just over the ball. That free-kick was closer than any of Ronaldo’s attempts and Patricio’s worry was clear as he desperately dived to cover his goal. Spain had somehow found some extra energy in the tank.

For Portugal tired legs and minds were beginning to kick in as the pace of the game trickled to a slow canter and the quality of passes dipped. Was the far of defeat now the overriding factor of the game?

EXTRA-TIME: HALF-TIME: PORTUGAL 0-0 SPAIN

Portugal began the second half by making a second substitute, Custodio coming on for Veloso. The chance inspired Portugal as Fabio Coentrao scampered down the left and crossed to Ronaldo although the pass didn’t quite find its man. Navas then found himself with space in the box to drive in an angled shot low at goal which Patricio blocked, spilled and blocked again. Portugal responded by making their final substitute bringing on Silvestre Varela for Raul Meireles.

Suddenly in the 115th minute Fabregas played through Pedro who was running at speed away from defenders and in on goal. Pedro looked cert on to score until his run ran out of steam and Coentrao cut the ball away. It looked like Portugal were now playing for penalties…which they got.

PENALTIES!!

S: Xavi Alonso – saved!
P: Joao Moutinho – saved!
S: Andres Iniesta – scores
P: Pepe – scores
S: Gerard Pique – scores
P: Nani – scores
S: Sergio Ramos – scores
P: Bruno Alves – misses
S: Cesc Fabregas – scores 🙁

Portugal: Rui Patricio, Joao Pereira, Pepe, Bruno Alves, Fabio Coentrao, Meireles (Varela 110’), Veloso (Custodio 106’), Joao Moutinho, Nani, Almeida (Oliveira 80’), Ronaldo.

Spain: Casillas, Arbeloa, Pique, Sergio Ramos, Jordi Alba, Xavi (Pedro 86’), Busquets, Alonso, Silva (Navas 59’), Negredo (Fabregas 54’), Iniesta

Star man: Jaoa Moutinho

Conclusion
Paulo Bento’s side had worked so, so hard. They didn’t give the usually imperious Spanish midfield a second to think, let alone control the ball and seek a pass. Not only were they working hard on the defensive side they also flirted with the Spanish goal on occasion. They had found a way to combat the Spanish passing game without sacrificing their own threat, rarely had this been done in recent years. That was until extra-time came then suddenly the team that looked certain to win fell to pieces. Luckily Spain left it to the extra half hour to begin to play as if they had been as attacking in normal period of time undoubtedly they would have scored. Sadly all that effort counted for nothing as the match went to penalties and Portugal were dumped out of the cup – without Ronaldo having the chance to take his penalty. Spain didn’t deserve to win the game but they held their nerves in the shootout. Bizarrely Portugal could be left to blame their defeat on Bruno Alves forgetting which order the penalties were to be taken in; walking up a kick to early only to be sent back by Nani then looking very shaky when it finally was his turn to take a kick, which he missed.

Portugal’s journey at Euro 2012 is over.

Players Ratings:

Rui Patrício – 8
The Sporting goalkeeper was in danger of going through the whole tournament without the chance of enhancing his burgeoning reputation. Blameless with all the goals conceded up to the semi-final, Patrício had, in truth, had little work to do in Portugal’s previous four matches. Tonight was his chance to shine and he took it. Wonderful reflex save kept out Iniesta’s close-range effort in extra time, and another sharp stop soon afterwards denied Navas. Seemed he may be the hero of the night after brilliantly keeping out Xabi Alonso’s penalty, but had no chance

Joao Pereira – 8
Considered by many the weak link of Portugal’s team pre-tournament, Pereira put in another almost perfect display. Defended tenaciously (exemplified by two magnificent interceptions to rob the ball from Iniesta 27’ and Fabregas 94’) and lent good support to the attack, although his crossing could have been better. Valencia must be delighted they paid Sporting around €3million for his services before the tournament began. Surely his price tag would be higher now.

Pepe – 9
Another Euro 2012 game, another masterful exhibition of defending from the Real Madrid centre-back. Always in the right place at the right time, excellently timed interventions, controlled aggression throughout. And a perfect penalty to boot.

Bruno Alves – 7
Gave everything he had for 120 minutes. Determined to block Spain’s progress on his side of the defence, and as ever commanding in the air with remarkable powers of elevation. However, as in previous games this tournament, his distribution of the ball was not the best and he tended to overuse the long ball. Whether having to turn back and take his penalty after Nani instead of before him unsettled Alves or not we will never know.

Fabio Coentrao – 9
The Real Madrid player was evidently determined to show his full range of defending and attacking capacities, no doubt stung by criticism he had to endure at times during his debut season in Spain. Another lion-hearted performance from the left-back, getting the better of his club team-mate Arbeloa most of the time in an intense battle. An excellent all-round display, as has been the case in all matches this tournament.

Miguel Veloso – 8
Like Pereira and Moutinho, Veloso has greatly enhanced his reputation with a wonderful tournament. Another solid display tonight, constantly hustling and harrying Spain’s legion of difficult-to-shackle midfielders. As well as breaking up play well, his composure on the ball and razor sharp distribution helped Portugal to keep possession and make sure they were not overrun in the middle of the pitch. Was by no means an automatic starter for Portugal at the start of this tournament, but now a shoe-in for the first-choice XI.

Raul Meireles – 8
Yet another tireless performance from the Chelsea midfielder, who had arguably his best game of Euro 2012. Made a number of vital interceptions and generally made good use of the ball when he had the chance.

Jaoa Moutinho – 9
Another monster of a performance from the FC Porto midfielder, who seemed to be everywhere at once. An acrobatic back-heel on 23 minutes and a quickly executed pass on 30’ set up two shooting opportunities for Ronaldo. Thinks and executes his game beautifully – he makes football seem simple. It was no coincidence that Spain started to dominate when his stamina finally broke in extra time. Did not deserve to miss a penalty.

Ronaldo – 8
Double or triple marked most of the time, Ronaldo still managed to cause panic in the Spanish defence on the few occasions they ceded him a slither of space. Kick-started Portugal after the team had made another slow start with a superb run and cross in the 12th minute that just evaded Nani’s head. Had the chance to find his range with three free-kicks and a late break, but tonight it wasn’t to be. Gave precious help to the defence at times, as shown by excellent headed clearance in the Portuguese box early in extra time.

Almeida – 7
Ran himself into the ground. The game largely passed him by in the first half, but after the break he got more involved. Tried his luck in the 57th, 58th and 67th minutes with powerful shots, but failed to hit the target. Did an commendable job helping out in defence, especially at set pieces with a number of excellent headed clearances.

Nani – 8
Worked hard to try and get into the game, and looked dangerous on the few occasions he got the ball in attacking positions. A wonderful turn and run on 30 minutes looked like it may open up the Spanish defence, only for the referee to mystifyingly call play back for a non-existent foul. Unfortunately for Portugal, his influence waned as the match went on. Showed the utmost confidence in his abilities by dispatching his penalty with aplomb after stepping ahead of Bruno Alves.

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