A crazy ending and a lot of suffering: Pedri's Spain's road to the semi-finals (5-2)
In two minutes the state Olympic team has gone from being out of the Games to forcing extra time and overcoming Ivory Coast
Although in a football match it is important to get off to a good start, the most important thing is how you finish. The Spanish Olympic team has started losing against Ivory Coast and in less than ten minutes they have also lost Òscar Mingueza. The blaugrana footballer, who was returning to play after contracting a femoral biceps in the first match of the Games, suffered from his injury at the very beginning and the Madrid player Vallejo, who is more of a centre-back than a winger, substituted him on the right wing. But despite losing a player to injury so early on and conceding a goal after just ten minutes, the state side rallied to draw level in a match that still had a crazy twist in store. In the 90th minute the Africans went ahead again, but not a minute later, with the first ball touched by Rafa Mir, Spain drew level again in a match that was decided in extra time with a penalty goal from Mikel Oyarzabal and two more goals from Mir (5-2). They will now meet the winner of the match between hosts Japan and New Zealand in the semi-finals.
The African side's early goal came from Manchester United centre-back and former Villarreal and Español centre-back Eric Bailly. The Ivorian defender's unorthodox yet effective finish from a corner was enough to get the better of defenders Eric Garcia and Pau Torres (0-1, 10'). This generated a few minutes of imprecision in the ranks of the team led by Luis de la Fuente, however, little by little, they have been recovering and have begun to dominate the ball.
The dominance, even so, although it left a good feeling, did not translate into clear chances until the Catalan Dani Olmo, more mischievous than anyone else, managed to equalise the match barely half an hour into the game. The RB Leipzig player went for a cross at the far post and, despite defender Wilfred Stephane Singo having the position won, Olmo took advantage of the player's chest pass to his goalkeeper to anticipate in a matter of seconds and send the ball into the back of the net with the tip of his foot (1-1, 30').
The goal spurred Spain on, but with a few moments of outbursts, especially from side-footed crosses, goalkeeper Unai Simon had to be at his best to keep out a powerful shot from the heart of the box from Youssuf Dao. Spain would recover from this scare and Pedri, with a shot just over the bar, and Oyarzabal, with a goal disallowed for offside, brought Spain back to within a whisker of danger.
At the restart, the tone of the last minutes of the first half would continue, with De la Fuente's team dominating the ball, trying to build chances based on the triangle formed by Dani Olmo, Juan Miranda and Pedri combining on the left side, while Ivory Coast defended firmly, without hesitation, and waited for their moment to counterattack. Although the scoreline would not change until the 90th minute, Madrid's Marco Asensio could have been on target, but his shot, after a mistake by the keeper, ended up on the crossbar.
The craziest moment of the match came in the 90th minute. Football is a sport in which the minutes can tick away without anything happening and, all of a sudden, mark the destiny of a team in a matter of a couple of minutes. In an isolated play, Max Gradel has sent a whip that, with luck because it has slightly deflected Vallejo and Unai Simon has deceived him, has ended with the goal of Ivory Coast (1-2, 90'). De la Fuente brought on the burly striker Rafa Mir (1.91m) and in less than two minutes his plan worked. A desperate cross into the heart of the Africans' box and, after a defensive lapse, Mir collected the ball to equalise and force extra time in a game that seemed lost (2-2, 92').
Remember how I started this report? By saying that while it's important to start well, it's even more important to finish well. Bailly, who started the game with a goal, ended up taking a penalty in extra time which, after Oyarzabal's superb finish, gave Spain their first lead of the game (3-2, 98'). The referee had to go to the monitor to review the penalty before whistling it out, but the Manchester United centre-back had blocked Pau Torres' shot with his fist in the air like a Superman and had deflected the ball with his arm. There were still minutes to go in extra time, but calm would come once more from the boots of Rafa Mir, who struck a powerful cross-shot to seal the game (4-2, 117'), and then the Murcia striker closed the game with another goal (5-2, 121'). Despite suffering, Pedri's team are already in the fight for the medals.