Spain reached the final of its third straight major championship after beating Portugal in Donetsk on Wednesday in a penalty shootout that will long be remembered for who shot, how they shot and who didn’t end up taking a spot kick after all.
Andrés Iniesta got Spain on the scoreboard after regular penalty taker Xabi Alonso had seen his opening kick brilliantly saved by Portugal keeper Rui Patricio (after which Iker Casillas did likewise to frustrate Moutinho). Then it was something of a surprise to see Spain’s pair of central defenders set off from the halfway line to take penalties three and four. Barcelona’s Gerard Piqué slotted home well in conventional style inside the left post, but Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos went for something a little bit special.
Three days after Italian pass master Andrea Pirlo had wowed Euro 2012 and wilted English hopes with a “Panenka” penalty — a deft chip into the ‘hole’ left by the diving, and helpless, goalie — Ramos stunned Spain fans by doing the same. And to perfection.
Vicente del Bosque’s bottom lip could be seen quivering lightly under his abundant mustache
Portugal’s Bruno Alves rocked the crossbar with his team’s fourth, leaving Cesc Fàbregas to convert the match point and Cristiano Ronaldo high and dry as the intended fifth Portuguese taker.
“I had planned it,” the Sevillian said later on. “Because, as a professional, I was hurt that after the Champions League semifinal against Bayern and the penalty I missed, people said I couldn’t take on that responsibility. Out of pride I decided to take it that way to show I am up to it.”
Braggadocio or bravery? Panenka-style poetry or flamenco spirit? “Del Bosque knows I am a bit crazy,” he admitted.
Indeed, in the moments after Ramos’ insolent chip, Vicente del Bosque’s bottom lip could be seen quivering lightly under his abundant mustache. But once in the press room the coach paid tribute to a penalty that was “important for the team’s confidence.”
For the talented Fàbregas, who has still not managed to carve out a regular place in a side awash with talented midfielders, the final kick was a sweet reminder of four years ago, when the then newcomer to the national side scored the decisive penalty in the quarterfinal against Italy, launching Spain toward the Euro 2008 title. “The boss asked me to take the second and I said, ‘No, no, I’m going to take the fifth,” said the man who has scored two goals playing as a forward for Spain this tournament. “I don’t know. Life has given me another opportunity.”