Spain’s hopes of a fourth European Championship title came to an agonising end after losing on penalties against Italy in their semi-final in London on Tuesday evening. After falling behind, Álvaro Morata equalised for Spain to take the game into extra time. Even after two hours, the teams could not be separated, and the game went to penalties where the Italians won 4-2.
The big surprise in Luis Enrique’s team selection was dropping Álvaro Morata in favour of Mikel Oyarzábal. The Italians made a quick start and left-back Emerson was at the centre of much of his team’s attacking moments. The best opportunity fell to Niccolò Barella, but he could not sort out his feet and the chance went begging. However, without creating many clear-cut opportunities, Spain grew into the game under the guidance of midfield duo Sergio Busquets and Koke, who dictated the rhythm and Spain’s superior passing game.
In the second half, observers were treated to some of the highest-quality football of the tournament. After Busquets saw his opportunity to give Spain the lead sail just over the bar, it was Italy who went in front thanks to a curling effort from Federico Chiesa that left Unai Simón rooted to the spot. Following the goal, Spain began to dominate in attack and made a raft of changes, with Morata among the introductions. However, they were initially thwarted from some characteristically resolute Italian defending.
Eventually, the Spanish dominance paid off and, fittingly, it was Morata who scored, firing home after a good move from the excellent Dani Olmo. The goal sparked scenes of jubilation among the Spanish side as they began to believe it may be their night.
For the rest of the 90 minutes and then for the opening stages of extra time, Spain controlled the game and their opponents had to dig deep to keep them at bay. Eventually, though, the exertions of a third consecutive game going the distance for Spain, coupled with the fear of losing so late in the game for both teams, meant that a penalty shootout seemed inevitable.
Therefore, for the second time in four days, penalties lay in Spain’s way. The shootout got off to a slow start- Locatelli’s effort was saved for Italy before Olmo skied his effort. Following this, the next five were scored and, 3-2 down, it then fell to Morata to bring Spain level. His effort was saved, a cruel end to a good performance from him. Jorginho duly stepped up to score and send Italy into the final.
Quite possibly the better team on the night, Spain can hold their heads high and be proud of a tournament performance that exceeded the expectations of most. Meanwhile, Italy will return to Wembley on Sunday to face either England or Denmark for a chance at continental glory (kick-off 9pm).