Not this time

It wasn’t really a silky performance, but Spain outplayed Italy for two hours today (without mangaing to score) and then kept its nerve in the penalty shoot-out. Spain thus overcame a series of omens, including three penalty shoot-out loses on June 22nds past. The Spaniards advance to play Russia in one Euro 2008 semi-final. Spain beat Russia 4-1 earlier in the tournament. Gemany and Turkey will square off in the other semi-final.

Goalkeeper Iker Casillas was the hero for Spain. He made a phenomenal leg-save to keep out Italy’s one serious scoring chance, and saved two of four penalty kicks in the shoot-out. Marco Senna, the Brazilian-born holding midfielder, was the other key figure. His steely play ensured that Spain would thoroughly dominate in midfield. He also broke up numerous counter-attacks and made his penalty kick in the 4-2 shoot-out win.

Before the match, I thought that the central defenders for both sides might struggle. That turned out manifestly not to be the case. For Italy, the make-shift duo of Panucci and (especially) Chiellini was outstanding, though the two received lots of help from right-back Zambrotta and holding midfielder DeRossi. For Spain, Puyol and Marchena, along with right back Sergio Ramos, blotted out Italy’s powerful center-forward, Luca Toni.

But the Spanish attacking players were mostly well-off of their normal form, and not just because Italy defended so well. I can’t recall ever seeing Iniesta play as poorly as he did today, and Xavi and Fernando Torres weren’t much better. These players, or their replacements, will need to pick it up if Spain is to win this tournament.

Even so, Spain deserved to win. Indeed, with Toni unable to provide goals, the Italians were mediocre throughout the tournament. Their only win came against a French team reduced to ten men by the sending off of Abidal. It’s a credit to the Italian’s vaunted football survival instinct that they made it to a shoot-out in the quarterfinals with this team.

In sum, while football wasn’t really a winner today, at least it wasn’t a loser.

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