The first team through to the Euro 2020 semi-finals are Spain after a 1-1 draw with Switzerland, followed by a 4-2 success on penalties.
Spain made the perfect start with a lead inside 10 minutes, Jordi Alba’s strike deflected in by Denis Zakaria, but despite plenty of possession domination thereafter, they didn’t really create too many further openings.
Switzerland troubled their opponents several times from set-pieces, but it took a defensive error a little past the hour mark for the equaliser to arrive, Xherdan Shaqiri rolling home after Pau Torres and Aymeric Laporte got in each others’ way once more.
Remo Freuler was sent off for a lunging tackle just a few minutes later to leave Switzerland with 10 men heading into extra time, where Spain were kept at bay by a string of Yann Sommer saves. A second successive penalty shootout for the Swiss thus ensued, with Mikel Oyarzabal netting the decisive strike.
Here are five things we learned as Spain reached the semi-finals.
Extra time merchants
Injuries and suspensions starting to bite and a sixth game fast coming up in the space of just over three weeks – so not idea for either side, then, to play a second match going to extra time in the space of a few days.
Ultimately, Spain will hope the time to rest between now and Tuesday evening is enough to get back to full power, but the accumulated fatigue – plus the stress of the knockouts going to these lengths – will certainly carry a toll.
For Switzerland the mental burden went double as soon as this one went to penalties yet again.
But they now exit and Spain must gather their resolve and watch on to see if they face Italy or Belgium.
Spain still unsettled at the back and in attack
Luis Enrique’s midfield three has been largely steady, with the exception of Sergio Busquets coming in for Rodri after returning from his Covid-enforced absence of the opening games.
Behind and ahead of the midfield has been another matter, though.
Regardless of the centre-back combinations, it has been uninspiring and inconsistent at the back for Spain – an expected, but worrying, effect of playing inexperienced internationals who had no partnership to speak of pre-tournament. Another goal-costing error here was not a surprise.
Up front, too, it has been a case of chopping and changing for each game and seeing which trio can impact – here they simply didn’t, with two of the starting three subbed well before the hour mark.
Depth is a fine thing, but few Spain players can claim to be guaranteed starters in the back four and forward three.
Comeback kings, but one too many
Switzerland left it late against France before producing a quite remarkable comeback.
Here it wasn’t quite as last-ditch, but few would have fancied them all the same, given the openings Spain initially carved open and the disparity between the two squads.
But once more their patience, their clinical edge when the chance came their way and their self-belief throughout the squad all came to the fore at the right time.
Extra time was a slog of bravery and hope, testament to the Swiss’ determination, but once they went behind in the shootout there was no way back finally.
Xhaka to Zaka
With Granit Xhaka suspended, Xherdan Shaqiri took over the captaincy for Switzerland and Denis Zakaria came into the heart of midfield.
Those two switches were notable for their impacts in either goal: ‘Gladbach midfielder Zakaria credited with an own goal for his part in Alba’s strike, before Shaqiri rolled in the equaliser.
There’s no doubt Switzerland missed the big switches and relentless harassing of Xhaka, and Zakaria was predictably overrun at times and lacking in sharpness of the touch, given he had barely set foot on the pitch at the tournament before this start.
With Remo Freuler dismissed, the ending midfield partnership – Djibril Sow joining Zakaria – was an entirely new, and second-string one, for the Swiss. It showed, in truth.
First Kylian Mbappe, now most of the Spanish national team.
Yann Sommer was a rock in extra time, a consistently well-placed and impassable object for the entirety of the added 30 minutes, making save after save to keep the depleted Swiss in the game.
Dani Olmo and Gerard Moreno maybe should have scored anyway, with strikes off-target, but Moreno, Marcos Llorente and any number of players on the end of corners should have beaten the Swiss stopper.
He parried, clutched and blocked, at times with bravery and usually with certainty, but most importantly, always with well-balanced and -positioned feet which allowed him to save without needing to stretch too far.
Add in a great save in the shootout and he’s in the running for goalkeeper of the tournament.
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