All week long, we looked forward to this game between Spain and Portugal. Many of the players on the field played for either Barcelona or Real Madrid so it promised to be another 'Classico' on the pitch. But after the first kickoff, it was clear that both teams were playing not to lose.
As I stated in previous posts, that defensive mindset usually leads to boring soccer. If Spain had not won, the manager del Bosque would have some hard questions to answer. Why didn't Fabregas start? What is wrong with Fernando Torres? Was Torres not playing due to a personal or tactical decision?
For Portugal manager Bento, he had to be beside himself that they had not won in regular time. They really had chance-after-chance. In extra time, world champion Spain had the upper hand, an unexpected development due to the extra days of rest Portugal had.
The shootout was very educational for me. Coaches have their own philosophies about penalty kicks and shootouts. Mine was always that I would send my five players out in this order: My most experienced leader (in Portugal's case Ronaldo and Spain's Fabregas) would take the last kick. I think that both coaches yesterday had that same philosophy. Now I wonder who is right.
I started questioning my philosopy after the England/Italy shootout. Italy's best was Pirlo and England's best was Rooney; they took their kicks in the third and second rounds, respectively. After Pirlo made his shot, it inspired Italy to finish strong, leading to their victory.
The way the shootout went yesterday, Xabi Alonso came up to take the first kick for Spain and missed. João Moutinho stepped up to take the first kick for Portugal and also missed. Both required solid saves.
Andres Inesta of Spain stepped up and either Rui Patrício guessed wrong or Inesta faked him out. In any case, Inesta shot the ball to the right and now Spain had the lead 1-0. Pepe' now had his turn for Portugal. He was way out of the box when the referee blew the whistle. That extra space gave him a chance to see if Spanish goalie Iker Casillas would guess. As Pepe' approached the ball, it was clear that Casillas would read the kick, forcing Pepe' to shoot it to his left with great force. Casillas read it perfectly but the shot was just too strong. Spain 1 - Portugal 1.
Then Gerard Piqué came up to kick for Spain. Piqué had not taken many PK's for Spain so that was a bit of a surprise . He probably will be taking them in the future however for he drilled it and read the kick correctly, but it was too powerful. Spain 2 - Portugal 1.
At this point, confusion rained down on Portugal. Bruno Alves was walking up to take the kick before Nani runs up to him to let him know that he was the fourth kicker, not third. Nani wound up being the third kicker. Now everyone knew Portugal's hand - Cristiano Ronaldo would be kicking last. Anyway, Nani sent his kick left and Casillas guessed right. Spain 2 - Portugal 2.
Sergio Ramos came in for Spain's next kick. He must have watched Pirlo's kick for his was almost identical. He ran up to the ball giving the impression he was going to the side net and when Patrício guessed left, Ramos just flicked the ball in to the middle! Spain 3 - Portugal 2.
Alves now approached the ball. Whether it was being shook up wanting to take the third kick, or watching Ramos make a fool out of Patrício, something was not right with this Portugese player. He quickly stepped up and hit a rocket of a shot which hit the post. Now Fabregas could win it all on the next kick leaving Portugal without its best player, Ronaldo, taking a shot.
Patrício read Fabregas' kick correctly but there was nothing he could do. The ball hit the inside of the left post and ricocheted to the right side net. This shootout will have me reflecting for quite some time as to which shootout philosophy is best.
What do you think? Let's talk about it Monday night on WGSO 990am on Monday Night Futbol at 7 p.m. Anyway, Spain will go on to try and make history Sunday, playing the winner of today's Germany-Italy game. Winning three straight major tournaments (two Euros with a World Cup) would be a phenomenal achievement.
God bless you all.
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