PENALTY MISERY FOR MEIRELES AND PORTUGAL

Posted on: Thu 28 Jun 2012

Fernando Torres and Juan Mata were unused substitutes as holders Spain booked their place in the final of Euro 2012, beating Portugal 4-2 on penalties after 120 minutes of football had failed to separate the two teams.

Cesc Fabregas was the eventual hero, scoring the decisive kick after the sides had played out a goalless draw and keeping his nation's hopes of becoming the first side to retain the trophy alive.

Alvaro Negredo was chosen to lead the Spanish attack, but the Sevilla striker was a peripheral figure for much of the game as Vicente Del Bosque's side struggled to find any rhythm and fluidity in their play, before being replaced by Fabregas midway through the second half.

Raul Meireles, meanwhile, started for Portugal and went about his work quietly but effectively, closing down spaces, pressing the Spain midfielders and breaking up the play throughout the course of the game.

As a spectacle, the match itself was a major disappointment, with clear-cut opportunities at both ends few and far between.

Cristiano Ronaldo who, along with his former Manchester United teammate Nani, was Portugal's biggest threat, came closest to breaking the deadlock in the first half, drilling a left-footed effort inches past the post, while at the other end Andres Iniesta saw his floater drop just over the bar.

It was a similar story after the break, with both teams huffing and puffing without ever really looking like scoring.

Along with Negredo, both David Silva and Xavi were withdrawn by Del Bosque, with Jesus Navas and Pedro entering the fray in order to inject some pace in the wide areas.

For Portugal, Ronaldo, so often hailed as a dead-ball specialist, wasted a whole host of free-kicks, sending them either straight into the wall or, on a couple of occasions, high into the stands.

The Real Madrid man then spurned a glorious opportunity to win the game in the 89th minute, when he took a Meireles pass in his stride before blasting wastefully over the bar.

It was Spain who began to turn the screw in extra-time, and Iniesta almost broke the deadlock when he connected with a Jordi Alba cross from close-range, only to see Rui Patricio make a fantastic save, while a minute later Sergio Ramos fizzed a free-kick inches over the bar.

Patricio was called upon again in the second period of extra-time, saving low down to his right to deny the substitute Navas, as Meireles, who had worked tirelessly throughout, was replaced by Silvestre Varela.

Xabi Alonso was first up in the shoot-out, and the man who scored from the spot in the quarter-final against France, saw his strike well saved by Patricio.

Joao Moutinho was entrusted with taking Portugal's first kick, but Iker Casillas was equal to it, before Iniesta gave Spain the lead, calmly rolling his effort into the bottom corner.

Pepe levelled by beating his Real Madrid teammate Casillas, while Gerard Pique restored Spain's advantage with the next kick.

Nani was up next for Portugal and dispatched his effort with aplomb, firing into the roof of the net, before Ramos cooly dinked his kick beyond Patricio to make it 3-2.

Bruno Alves then handed Spain the initiative by crashing his strike against the bar, meaning Fabregas only had to convert his kick to send the holders through, and the Barcelona man duly obliged.