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Thursday, June 28, 2012

Spain Book Euro 2012 Finals Berth

Cristiano lives to fight for another day
Reigning champions Spain moved to within a win of becoming the first team to defend the European title. La Roja defeated Portugal 4-2 on post-match penalties in their semi-final clash at the Donbass Arena in Donets’k to qualify for their third consecutive major final.

Cesc Fabregas converted the winning penalty which, without a doubt, decided the best match of the Euro 2012 campaign thus far.

Spain found chances hard to come by against Paul Bento’s side. The defending champions were pinned back and didn’t have as much of the ball as they are accustomed to.

But like it has been in this tournament, Vicente Del Bosque’s free passing side sailed into the July 1 finals in a champions-esque style.

This was a night when Cristiano Ronaldo needed to step up, again. Just like he did when his two goals knocked out Holland out of contention in the group stages. Just like he did when his bullet header sent Czech Republic crashing out of the competition.

A win here for Portugal and especially an inspirational performance from CR7 would have reignited the debate on who is the best player in the world. Well, that debate will still continue in spite of the Real Madrid forward failing to steer his team to the finals. But it could have killed one debate; who’s the best player of the 2012 football calendar?

That he ended up not even taking a penalty was as disappointing as the clear chances he missed in the course of the game, the worst, or best for Spain, being in the 90th minute when he blasted over with only Iker Casillas to beat, albeit at a tight angle.

That was the last chance any team had to prevent the match from going into extra time. But he squandered it.

The 35th meeting between the two sides had limited chances and could have been decided by a solitary goal. Alvaro Arbeloa got the first opportunity to do so with nine minutes on the clock but side-footed his effort wide from just outside the area.

Portugal then took the game to their opponents using Ronaldo’s left wing but the captain couldn’t cause his Real Madrid teammate Iker Casillas enough problems in the Spanish goal.

The second half was barely different and the Spaniards only started to control the game after the half hour mark but it all counted for nothing as the game went into extra time.

That the 90 minutes had taken enough from the men on the field was clear to see. But the Portuguese looked the more fatigued. Pepe and Fabio Contreao were having a monster of a game constantly preventing La Roja from advancing either through the center or the right wing. But when they did, Rui Patricio was taking no prisoners between his sticks. Iniesta and Jesus Navas drew stunning saves from the custodian.

And so it was written, so it had to be done. Penalties. Xabi Alonso drew the loudest cheer yet from the partisan crowd when his effort was saved by Patricio. Casillas saved from Moutinho to extend the drama.

Iniesta scored and so did Pepe, Pique, Nani and Ramos, who’s was a brilliant Panenka that Andrea Pirlo must have been proud of. As he celebrated, I wondered whether this was the same player who had a terrible miss against Bayern Munich in the same level of competition in the UEFA Champions league.

Bruno Alves missed the next spot kick to put Spain in the driving seat. At 3-2 in favour of Del Bosque’s side, Cesc Fabregas was presented with the chance to ensure they will be the team traveling to Kiev for Sunday’s final.

The Barcelona playmaker who has mostly been used in the tournament as a ‘false’ striker made no mistake slotting home off the post to put Spain in yet another final.

La Roja are on the brink of becoming the first nation in the world to win three successive major tournaments. But this was more of a professional than deserved win and there was no evidence that they will cruise past either Italy or Germany in the final. The latter are everyone’s favourites to advance to the final which sounds as epic as they come.

For Portugal and Ronaldo, they don’t touch down on Lisbon until they honour their third place playoff match against the losers of the Germany-Italy clash. Ronaldo could still win the golden boot.

And That's thesteifmastertake!!