Spain need penalties to eliminate ten-man Switzerland (1-1, 3-1)
Luis Enrique's side reach EURO semi-finals
BarcelonaThe Spanish national team qualified for the semi-finals of the European Championship after defeating Switzerland in a penalty shootout. A match in which Luis Enrique's team did not show the theoretical superiority against the Swiss team until the rival was left with ten players. The roja lacked the aim to finish off the match in extra time and played it from eleven meters. The mistakes of Busquets and Rodri was not too catastrophic, because Unai Simon made an exhibition under the posts and saved, consecutively, the shots of Schaer, Akanji and Vargas. Oyarzabal scored the decisive penalty. Luis Enrique raised his fists in victory, relieved after a tie that had almost run aground.
The match had gone to penalties after a first half that had passed without a hitch, a second half in which Switzerland had the initiative and earned a draw until Freuler was sent off, and an extra-time period in which goalkeeper Sommer was his country's saviour. In fact, until extra time it was not a duel of many clear-cut chances, more of intentions than of shots. Spain, having benefited from Zakaria's own goal, had opted to speculate with the scoreline. This was an approach that the Swiss were already happy with, as they accepted their role as underdogs and, after the break, took the step forward that would allow them to do some damage to Unai Simon's goal.
Penalty shoot-out aside, the match ended with a feeling of Spain's clear superiority. But it is true that Luis Enrique's side could have got their fingers caught because they did not get into the rhythm of the game until Switzerland had a man down. The expulsion of Remo Freuler, for a pretty hard tackle on Gerard Moreno, with fifteen minutes left, completely changed the schemes of the match. The Swiss team brought the bus and the roja, now, laid siege to Sommer's goal.
Spain got lucky
The game had become unbalanced in the eighth minute. Jordi Alba's shot hit the body of Zakaria. The ball changed trajectory and Sommer could do nothing to prevent the first goal of the match. It was the only shot on goal in the first half, apart from a header from Azpilicueta. Unai Simón was living in peace and quiet, without having to intervene. The team was installed in a conformist scheme that, with the change of pace of the rival, became a defensive game. Switzerland warned and Spain began to take water out of the boat. A constant hammering, not so much in occasions but in gaining meters and preventing Luis Enrique's team from feeling comfortable on the pitch.
Zakaria, seeking redemption for the goal he had conceded, came close to equalising with a great header that went just wide of the post. On the other hand, the Swiss did not miss a few minutes later, in the 68th minute of the match, taking advantage of a defensive blunder by the roja. Laporte and Pau Torres, the two central defenders, did not understand each other and the ball was left free for Freuler to pass to Shaquiri. The Liverpool midfielder made no mistake.
Spain saw the wolf's ears. Between Luis Enrique's changes to the starting front three -Sarabia, Morata and Ferran Torres- and Freuler's sending off, the game changed direction radically. Switzerland signed the penalties and looked at the scoreboard, praying for the minutes to pass. It seemed only a matter of time before the goal was scored, but it was not to be and it was all to be decided on penalties.
In the Round of 16, Switzerland beat the all-conquering France from the penalty spot. This time they did not get it right. Or rather, Unai Simón was impeccable. His saves allowed Spain, the team that few had expected at the start of the tournament, to keep dreaming.