Luis Enrique feels 'very good indeed' as Spain progress to Euro 2020 semi-finals

Spanish keeper Unai Simon crushes Switzerland's hopes with two penalty saves in shootout

As Spain’s jubilant players sprinted on to the field to celebrate a penalty-shoot-out victory at the European Championship, Luis Enrique stood alone and simply pumped his fists.

Amid the tension and rising pressure inside Saint Petersburg Stadium, the Spain coach might have been the calmest person around.

“I’d tried to convey a message that what would be, would be,” Luis Enrique said, revealing what he’d told his team before the 3-1 shoot-out victory over Switzerland in the quarter-finals on Friday.

“I told them to relax … and to enjoy the moment as much as they could.”

Easier said than done for a team that had missed its last five regulation penalties in matches, two of them at Euro 2020. For a team that had squandered chance after chance in extra time as Switzerland’s energy-sapped players hung on for a 1-1 draw through extra time. For a team that had come into the match as the favourite and had taken an eighth-minute lead, only to see that wiped out by a defensive mistake.

So, imagine the relief when Mikel Oyarzabal stepped up to convert the decisive spot kick past goalkeeper Yann Sommer, whose save on Kylian Mbappe’s shot in a shoot-out win over France got Switzerland to the tournament’s quarter-finals for the first time.

After seeing the ball hit the back of the net, Oyarzabal headed straight to Spain goalkeeper Unai Simon, who had made two saves in the shoot-out. They were soon consumed by their teammates as Y Viva Espana blasted out from the stadium’s loudspeakers.

“When it goes your way,” Luis Enrique said, “it feels very good indeed.”

Simon was unsurprisingly named man of the match but modestly suggested his opposite number was more deserving.

“I would have given Sommer the MVP,” Simon told Spanish daily Marca.

He was less self-effacing about the result and described Spain as “worthy winners”, although caveated this with a warning they must cut out mistakes and stay grounded “because a very difficult opponent is coming our way whoever it is".

“In the semi-finals, you need to have the mentality that each game is new. Winning the European Championship should be the only thing on our minds now.”

Simon also elaborated on his postgame celebrations with manager Luis Enrique.

Quote
I think we just lacked a little bit of luck today
Xherdan Shaqiri

“I have come a little up in the celebration but it is what my body told me to do. It was a moment of euphoria.”

The Swiss had won a penalty shoot-out against France in the previous round when they scored all five of their penalties in the shoot-out. This time they failed with three of their four attempts: Fabian Schar and Manuel Akanji had shots saved by Simon, while Ruben Vargas fired the ball over the crossbar.

“Penalties are a bit 50-50,” said a philosophical Switzerland captain Xherdan Shaqiri, who scored his team’s goal in regulation time. “I think we just lacked a little bit of luck today.”

Spain will play Italy in the semi-finals on Tuesday at Wembley Stadium in London, after the Azzurri overcame Belgium in Friday's other semi-final.

Before the penalty shoot-out, the quarter-final was a laboured affair punctuated by big moments.

Among them was a red card in the 78th minute for Switzerland midfielder Remo Freuler, whose studs connected with the ankle of substitute Gerard Moreno in a sliding challenge.

Yet a rearguard effort — requiring a string of diving saves by Sommer and a number of last-ditch blocks by sprawling defenders — kept the Spanish at bay in the extra 30 minutes that were played almost entirely in Switzerland’s half. A crowd made up of mostly Russian spectators was fully behind Switzerland, even to the extent of jeering Spain’s players when they had the ball.

Moreno, in particular, squandered four chances with poor finishing or the acrobatics of Sommer, though the striker made amends by converting one of Spain’s kicks in the shoot-out.

The Swiss initially missed the energy and authority of suspended captain Granit Xhaka, whose replacement — Denis Zakaria — had the misfortune of scoring the 10th own-goal of the tournament when he sliced the ball into his own net. Jordi Alba sent in the shot after latching on to a corner from the right that had sailed over everyone’s heads in the area.

A defensive mix-up brought about Shaqiri’s equaliser in the 68th, which came just as Switzerland’s players had started to assert themselves.

Aymeric Laporte came across to cover a pass over the top but touched the ball on to the leg of his centre-back partner, Pau Torres. Freuler pounced on the ball and laid it off to Shaqiri, whose first-time shot crawled into the bottom corner.

Switzerland bowed out in the same stadium where the team was eliminated from the 2018 World Cup. Then, the Swiss lost to Sweden 1-0 in the round of 16.

Updated: July 2nd 2021, 10:12 PM
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