Spain set up a European Championship semi-final against Belgium or Italy after battling past Switzerland on penalties in Saint Petersburg on Friday evening. Spain took an early lead but were pegged back by the resolute Swiss, who then had a player sent off. Despite their numerical advantage, Spain could not find a way past until penalties, when they eventually triumphed 3-1.
Reintroduced to the starting XI, Jordi Alba played an instrumental role in giving Spain an eighth minute lead after his shot following a corner took a big deflection off Denis Zakaria. Initially credited to Alba, it was later determined to be a Swiss own goal. The rest of the first half slipped into a lull in which chances were at a premium for both sides. Koke went closest for Spain with a freekick that he curled just over the bar.
After the break, Switzerland came out with more attacking intensity. Xherdan Shaqiri’s audacious direct attempt from a corner to catch out Unai Simón found only the side netting while Zakaria almost atoned for his first half error by heading just wide.
In the 66th minute, the Swiss pressure paid off when Remo Freuler capitalised on a defensive calamity between Pau Torres and Laporte, who had run into eachother. Freuler found his team’s talisman Shaqiri who duly slotted home the equaliser. Switzerland were now in the ascendancy and seemed the more likely to score but were dealt a blow when Freuler was shown a straight red card for a two-footed challenge on substitute Gerard Moreno.
Switzerland managed to hold on with ten men and to take the game to extra time, where the pattern of Spanish domination continued. Goalkeeper Yann Sommer put in an immense performance, making saves to deny efforts from Dani Olmo, Gerard and Oyarzabal. In total, Spain had 11 shots in just the first 15 minutes of extra time and continued to dominate proceedings in the second half but were still unable to find a winner.
Spain must have gone into the resulting shootout with a sense of trepidation given their poor recent penalty record and their fears seemed to come to fruition when skipper Sergio Busquets missed the first kick. However, the team rallied and, inspired by two saves from Unai Simón, marched on to the next round by winning 3-1.
Among the favourites coming into the tournament, either Belgium or Italy will be a daunting task but, having come this far and shown they can go the distance, Spain will fancy their chances of making 11 July’s final. The semi-final takes place at Wembley at 9pm on Tuesday.