Spain hold their nerve to reach semi-finals and end battling Switzerland’s run

Penalties were a bridge too far for 10-man Switzerland as Spain went through to the Euro 2020 semi-finals

On the fringes of Switzerland’s huddle Granit Xhaka, who must have found two hours watching from the side excruciating, shouted encouragement while bouncing up and down on his heels. In the centre Vladimir Petkovic, the manager who was five well-executed penalties from leading them into uncharted territory, rallied his shattered troops one last time. They had won this way once; now they had to win like this all over again.

Within 10 minutes the dream had finally died and it is Spain who will contest a semi-final at Wembley on Tuesday. While Switzerland converted each of their spot kicks emphatically against France, this time their efforts looked weary and second-guessed. Twice Spain, who should have put them away in extra-time but could have blamed only themselves for a largely lacklustre display had they lost, offered them the initiative. When Sergi Busquets hit the post and Yann Sommer saved from Rodri, another scalp moved within reach. But Manuel Akanji and Fabian Schar, so strident four days previously, allowed Unai Simón to save their tentative shots and the writing was on the wall when Ruben Vargas blasted over.

It was left for Mikel Oyarzabal to finish the job confidently and leave Luis Enrique’s players counting their blessings. They had been handed an advantage when Switzerland, who looked plausible winners after Xherdan Shaqiri’s equaliser, were reduced to 10 men in the 77th minute. Remo Freuler’s challenge on Gerard Moreno was heavy but looked fair enough; Michael Oliver deemed otherwise, presumably judging Freuler had used excessive force, and a slow-burning contest that had begun to rattle along at a fair lick was reduced to a sheer fight for life.

“Unfortunately the red card affected our game for 45 minutes,” Petkovic said. “I think it was too harsh. Maybe it’s a foul, but never a red card. I question it a little bit, to be honest. But we can be proud of what we showed: we are eliminated with our heads held high.”

Had Switzerland pulled through it would have been another extraordinary triumph for Sommer, who also saved brilliantly from Moreno and Oyarzabal before the shootout. But Simon, who was so horrified by the embarrassing mistake that could have cost Spain dearly against Croatia, was able to write a happy story of his own and celebrate wildly at the end.

A distraught Ruben Vargas is consoled by his Switzerland teammates after he blasted his penalty over the bar.
A distraught Ruben Vargas is consoled by his Switzerland teammates after he blasted his penalty over the bar. Photograph: Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images

“It’s a feeling of euphoria,” Simón said. “We have a fantastic group here and the fact we are in the semi-finals is down to the collective.”

If Spain are to reclaim the Henri Delaunay trophy they will have to buck up. Perhaps they were hindered here by a slow, nobbly pitch that did little to foster slick football. The overriding problem, though, seemed to be that they prioritised control over penetration after going ahead when the game had barely started. Between the ninth minute and the second minute of extra-time they did not create a clear chance and rarely looked especially like doing so.

Monopolising possession to no clear end can work, though, if defensive slapstick does not intervene. Switzerland had finally started to show signs of life after being rattled by Denis Zakaria’s early own goal and, midway through the second half, they broke through. Aymeric Laporte appeared poised to deal with a lofted pass forwards but succeeded only in knocking the ball against his central defensive partner, Pau Torres. It ran free to Freuler, who could burst into the area and seek out Shaqiri to his left with what would be his final involvement of the game. Shaqiri finished coolly and there was a strong sense Spain had been asking for it.

Parity had been brief during the first half. The identity of Spain’s goalscorer was particularly unfortunate given Zakaria had been drafted in to replace the suspended Xhaka. He deflected Jordi Alba’s shot, drilled towards goal after Koke’s corner drifted beyond the 18-yard line past a helpless Sommer, and proceedings drifted after that. The crowd, who had sought better entertainment on a balmy summer night, found more interest in a Mexican wave as the interval neared; Switzerland, for their part, were hindered further when their forward Breel Embolo departed with an injury.

Luis Enrique did not dismiss his side’s lack of creativity, admitting it became “a more dangerous game” after they went ahead. He also accepted that, at the point of Freuler’s dismissal, the tie lay in the balance. “After the sending off the game changed totally,” he said. “I think it would have been a lot more even if it was 11 against 11, but I think we did deserve to win against 10 men.”

The Fiver: sign up and get our daily football email.

They probably would have if Moreno had not shinned a cross from Alba, who was comfortably Spain’s best player, wide at the start of extra-time. From then on Switzerland, visibly exhausted, threw everything into defence; a stupendous block by Ricardo Rodríguez on Marcos Llorente, who looked certain to score, symbolised their attitude and it was hard not to feel sympathy that it was ultimately in vain.

“We gave our best, gave everything we had,” Petkovic said. “The players can be so proud.” From nowhere, they had become one of the tournament’s most compelling stories.


Nick Ames at St Petersburg Stadium

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Unai Simón and Spain complete redemption tale in shootout | Sid Lowe
Given the Swiss success against France and Spain’s recent record with penalties the odds were against Luis Enrique’s side but they prevailed and are in the last four

Sid Lowe at St Petersburg Stadium

02, Jul, 2021 @9:33 PM

Article image
Euro 2020 power rankings: Belgium and England on the up for last eight
Belgian and English defences stand firm in big tests, Spain’s rollercoaster rides on and Switzerland surpass all expectations

Marcus Christenson

30, Jun, 2021 @4:05 PM

Article image
Euro 2020 power rankings: England go top after Ukraine rout
We have reached the semi-final stage with Gareth Southgate’s team top of the pile, closely followed by Italy

Marcus Christenson

04, Jul, 2021 @11:00 AM

Article image
Switzerland’s Sommer saves Mbappé’s penalty to send France crashing out
After a thrilling 3-3 draw, Switzerland’s Yann Sommer saved Kylian Mbappé’s shootout penalty to put France out of Euro 2020 at the last-16 stage

Nick Ames at the National Arena Bucharest

28, Jun, 2021 @10:03 PM

Article image
Luis Enrique’s Spanish revolution takes nerve-shredding step forward | Jonathan Wilson
A breathless victory over Croatia keeps Spain in the Euro 2020 reckoning but desire for more verticality is shredding nerves

Jonathan Wilson

28, Jun, 2021 @7:26 PM

Article image
Mancini’s Italy plot to overtake Spain after following in rival’s footsteps | Nicky Bandini
A dynamic Italy side have learned from all-conquering Spanish dominance but put their own spin on it to find success at Euro 2020

Nicky Bandini

06, Jul, 2021 @6:15 AM

Article image
Switzerland 1-1 Spain (aet, 1-3 on penalties): Euro 2020 quarter-final – as it happened
Minute-by-minute report: Spain advanced on penalties following a heroic rearguard action by a Swiss side reduced to 10 men for over 40 minutes

Barry Glendenning

02, Jul, 2021 @7:13 PM

Article image
Álvaro Morata and Spain booed by home crowd after friendly draw with Portugal
Spain and Portugal played out a 0-0 draw at the Wanda Metropolitano in Madrid, with Álvaro Morata drawing the ire of the crowd

Sid Lowe

04, Jun, 2021 @8:04 PM

Article image
Álvaro Morata wins hearts for Spain but falls short in cruel penalty twist | Sid Lowe
The striker scored the goal that sent this semi-final into extra time – but there was heartbreak to come in the shootout

Sid Lowe at Wembley

06, Jul, 2021 @11:19 PM

Article image
Misfiring Spain scramble for answers before must-win Slovakia game | Sid Lowe
Forwards are not scoring enough and Luis Enrique’s substitutes do not offer variety, leaving Spain fearing an early exit

Sid Lowe in Seville

20, Jun, 2021 @4:08 PM