The relief on Luis Enrique’s face spoke loudest. Mikel Oyarzabal’s penalty fuelled a series of emotions from Spain, into the semi-finals of Euro 2020 by the skin of 3-1 spot-kicks, but nothing dominated as much as the sheer release of not suffering another disappointment.
Switzerland, at this stage of a major competition for the first time in nearly 70 years, can feel victorious in their spirit. Key absentees, a sending-off and relentless attacks from Spain at the death could not quell their resistance.
They fell from 12 yards out, but had a good fight in an encounter that won’t be filed as a classic.
The sides involved in the most exhilarating, winding, What The Hell?! day of tournament football had evidently used up all their entertainment vibes. Or perhaps the exhausting business of having to oust Croatia in an epic for the ages after extra time had drained Spain, much like Switzerland were taxed after eliminating world champions France on penalties.
Neither of these teams wanted or needed additional football, but a deficiency of clear-cut chances paved the path for just that.
Much of the talk surrounding Switzerland’s build-up centred around the absence of suspended Granit Xhaka, who delivered the performance of his career against France. “When such an influential player is missing, it means each individual on the pitch has to give 10 per cent more,” manager Vladimir Petkovic said.
Denis Zakaria filled in and was full of combative fire in the opening exchanges as he looked to match Xhaka’s titanic display, but was quickly at the end of an unfortunate storyline.
Spain’s first corner of the game broke to Jordi Alba outside the Swiss penalty area. The left-back pulled the trigger, with his shot deflecting wickedly off Zakaria, and completely deceiving Yann Sommer.
The favourites were ahead and needed that slice of luck having had sterile possession for the majority of the half.
Spain almost levelled the fortune sakes when goalkeeper Unai Simon panicked under pressure from the Swiss high press and applied a horrid clearance that led to a corner.
All that happened was another bad twist for the designated hosts, with Breel Embolo suffering a hamstring injury and being replaced by Ruben Vargas.
The first 45 were a tale of non-existent quality and threat in the final third, with Spain simply content in possession. There was only one shot on target and the St Petersburg crowd took it upon themselves to inject some life into the affair, igniting a series of Mexican Waves.
The second half was kindly more energetic. Switzerland returned intent on putting up a fight and Spain were sympathetic to their cause: gifting them corner after corner.
From one, Zakaria outjumped Ferran Torres and watched a downward header narrowly wide. Just over 10 minutes later, they bagged the leveller.
Spain had practically begged Switzerland to even matters with a bonkers piece of defending. Under minimal pressure, Aymeric Laporte and Pau Torres created a massive mess with one hitting a loose ball into the other.
The ricochet off shins sparked Remo Freuler to get in-between them, retrieve possession and supply Xherdan Shaqiri. The Liverpool attacker cooly slotted in from around eight yards out.
Just as Spain were on the ropes and Switzerland seemed to be rewriting their story of hard luck, referee Michael Oliver showed Freuler a straight red for a late, sliding tackle on Gerard Moreno that wasn’t overturned by VAR.
With Petkovic’s men needing fresh legs and hard running, Shaqiri was sacrificed.
They gallantly managed to force the match to extra time, in which Moreno failed to convert a lovely Alba cross from the left. Another deflected shot wrong-footed Sommer, but he was relieved to see Dani Olmo’s effort that hit Moreno spin wide.
The goalkeeper brilliantly saved from Moreno as Spain came, and came, and came again.
Switzerland defended like giants to secure a shootout.
Sergio Busquets hit the post after sending Sommer the wrong way, Mario Gavranovic and Olmo both scored before Simon saved from Fabian Schar.
Rodri, who was brought on to take a spot-kick, was then foiled by Sommer.
Simon was at it again, thwarting Manuel Akanji and the shootout was swinging Spain’s way.
Moreno made no mistake to enhance that feeling and when Vargas hit the bar, Oyarzabal sent Sommer the wrong way and kicked Spain into the semi-finals.
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