FROM 16, WE now have just four contenders remaining.
And tonight we have the first, and most anticipated, semi-final between two ancient rivals.
Is it the most important Iberian derby ever? Why not.
But whatever you do, just go out and enjoy it.
Portugal 0 – 0 Spain (Spain win 4-2 on penalties.)
19.26 – Evenin’ all. I know its been tough enduring life without live football this past three days, but I hope you haven’t done anything drastic like gnawing off your own arm or begun watching Keeping up with the Kardashians.
If you have, we hope you have sought the relevant medical attention.
All present and correct? Let’s crack on, then.
19.37 – The big team news is that Spain have selected Alvaro Negredo to play as a real life centre forward rather than Cesc Fabregas acting as a ‘false nine’.
19.39 – The teams are slowly emerging from the tunnel and wee ray Houghton is getting very excited in the commentary box. Here are the starting line-ups.
Spain: Casillas, Arbeloa, Ramos, Pique, Alba, Busquets, Alonso, Xavi, Iniesta, Silva, Negredo
Portugal: Patrício; Pereira, Alves, Pepe, Coentrão; Veloso, Moutinho, Meireles; Nani, Ronaldo, Almeida
19.42 – Predictions?
Do ye want Spain to carry-on-passing or can Portugal steal the ball long enough to put it in the big onion bag behind Iker Casillas?
19.46 – 10,9,8,7…. the annoying countdown continues until, finally, we have KICK OFF.
Commentators saying that Fabregas did not take part in warm up, so Negredo’s selection may not entirely be tactical.
19.49 – Portugal enjoying the opening exchanges here. Arbeloa hoofed the ball clear from his corner flag, but it found Miguel Veloso. The midfielder’s shot was blocked.
Casillas flapped at the corner kick, putting it behind for a second set-piece, but he claimed the cross from the left with ease.
19.52 – Spain have put together one or two nice passing movements, but so far; neither side can claim to be dominating.
And after Portugal’s strident start, things have calmed slightly and the game can now be described as ‘cagey’.
19.56 – A big, big chance for Arbeloa after Iniesta and Jordi Alba link beautifully on the left side of the box. Iniesta pulled a pass back to Negredo who got tangled and the ball broke to the full-back on the edge of the box.
He elected to connect with his instep rather than the laces and it whistled a foot over the bar.
20.00 – We had our first glimpse of Ronaldo v the Spaniards. The Real Madrid man hared down the left flank chased by three red shirts.
With space at a premium he had no choice but to pick out a cross from the by-line.
Nani was the only white shirt in the box, no match for the mighty Casillas.
20.04 – Ronaldo, this time, managed to win a free kick on the left side of the area. But he drew the groans of all (bar the lone Spaniard) when he smashed it into the very centre of a two-man wall.
20.05 – Here in TheScore.ie war room, we had just been thinking that the ground in Donetsk was less atmospheric than it could be. Lo and behold, a man who is actually there confirmed it.
20.11 – Ronaldo adds to his astronomical tally of shots on goal for the tournament with a 24th minute spin and volley.
He was about 25 yards out when he let fly with his left after Veloso’s back-heel. It sailed harmlessly over the bar.
20.15 – Spain are rattled.
Almeida has just raced 20 yards to close down Pique in his box and managed to do so, the Barca boy did manage to hurriedly clear at the second attempt, but Portugal got it back in the mixer and appealed (half-heartedly) for handball when Ramos clumsily dived to try and head a clearance. Instead, it hit him on the chest and then the underside of his chin.
20.17 – Yet, it takes all of 30 second for Iniesta to remind the world of why Spain are where they are. He cut in onto his right to shoot from 18 yards. It dropped inched the wrong side of the bar.
Good game, this. Spain are on the back foot… As I say that, Portugal steal possession 20 yards from goal and Ronaldo’s instant shot off his left hits the side-netting.
20.22 – Nani down receiving treatment to his face after being sandwiched by Ramos and Alba. I think he’ll survive, he’s a warrior that kid.
20.30 – The World Champions have just begun to get momentum swing their way, Hugo Almeida appears to drop from centre forward to defensive midfield when Portugal have to sit deep.
The Portuguese skipper relieved some of the pressure by drawing a foul and yellow card for his club-mate Sergio Ramos. Portugal, though, are overly-committed to the cross. Any time Coentrao reaches the final third, the ball is sent in with the hope that either Almeida or Ronaldo can make hay.
Spain, however, are giving away much less space than the Czech Republic did.
20.32 – We’re near half time here in Donetsk and Coentrao has now been booked, apparently for dissent towards the lino.
HALF TIME: Portugal 0 – 0 Spain
There it is, both sides trudge towards the tunnel, happy enough to have kept the game level thus far. Portugal have shaded the opening half, but have had to work extremely hard to keep their arch-rivals rocking.
Will the holders settle into a rhythm? Or will this incredibly long season for Barcelona based stars prove detrimental?
20.39 – Before we horse into the half-time oranges and tea, a quick look in the mail-bag, or the comment section as the young people call it. Cornelius Collins reckons he could get a game as Portugal’s centre forward. he says:
“what’s the story with that almeda fella?? did he win a competition or something? is he Bento’s brother in law? cause he is about as threatening as the Andrex puppy”
Toilet roll thieving canines aside; it is peculiar that Portugal – for all the brilliant midfielder and wingers they have created – haven’t produced a decent striker since… well, Eusebio.
20.47 – For all Portugal’s relative dominance, they still have managed to get only 44% of possession.
They have managed two shots on target to Spain’s nil, and have committed two fewer fouls (seven) than those bastions of virtue, Spain (nine fouls).
But all those stats are just back-up, will we get a goal in the coming 45 minutes or will we get a second consecutive goalless draw and penalty shoot-out?
20.48 – The second half is underway… brace thyself.
20.54 – Once again, the poor atmosphere in the Donbass Arena has made the opening exchanges seem to lack a little pizazz… or something.
We appear to be settling into a familiar pattern, with Spain getting their act together and stringing a couple of dozen passes together before Portugal win a free kick and urgently move onto the attack.
20.58 – Vicente del Bosque has had enough of Negredo. Cesc Fabregas is on the field as Spain decide that possession is their only hope.
21.00 – A super piece of Moutinho skill has Ronaldo and Coentrao on the fly down the left. The skipper slips a ball on for the overlapping fullback, it’s a little heavy, but Coentrao battled it out with Arbeloa and won a corner.
Spain clear without much fuss, but on the follow-up move, Almeida has the ball as the centre of a three-on-three. He attempts a pot-shot from 30 odd yards. It was ill-advised.
21.01 – Oh dear, as testament to the lack of red-blooded Spain and Portugal fans in attendance, a Mexican wave has begun lapping gently around Donetsk. Fun?
21.04 – Jesus Navas is on in place of David Silva. That might give Coentrao something to think about.
Speaking of which, Pepe (the little scamp) has left a knee in the back of Xabi Alonso when the pair contested a header.
21.08 – Pereira gleefully takes a yellow card for a body check on Fabregas rather than allow him chase Iniesta’s through-ball into the box. Two ensuing Spanish set-pieces come to nout.
55 minutes to penalties.
21.10 – Xabi and Xavi have shots in quick succession. Typically, Alonso’s is from miles away, but trails miles wide. Xavi manages to drill his on target, but straight at Rui Patricio.
21.14 – Ronaldo has a free-kick ‘in his range’ 40 odd yards out. Goal, over the bar or into the wall?
21.15 – … over the bar, but only just. Casillas had it covered, mind you.
21.20 – 15 minutes from the end of regulation and Portugal are still being presented with openings, only to waste an overlap on the right thanks to Moutinho’s poor pass to Nani.
The Manchester United winger cut back attempting to make space, but could only drill into the midriff of Ramos.
21.24 – Both teams look unwilling to go for the jugular with 10 minutes on the clock. This game will peter out and be decided in OT.
Nelson Oliveira has been introduced for Portugal. A like for like swap for Hugo Almeida.
21.26 – Another free-kick for big Ron. He takes a few deep breaths, catches himself on the big screen, fixes his hair and smashes the ball into the wall.
Handball by Arbeloa, another free kick…
21.27 – Uncharacteristically, he attempts to curl the ball over the wall. Characteristically, it flies over the bar.
21.30 – Our resident Spanish supporter (let’s just call him… ‘Miguel’) is complaining that his beloved Rojas are not committing enough bodies into attack. Even when they build up slowly, they are content to let only Fabregas, Navas and Iniesta move within spitting distance of the box.
We hope Ewan got the box back on in time to see Portugal spurn a four-on-two counter attack.
The ball is moved to the right man, Ronaldo on the left, but it’s a ile behind him and the entire momentum of the attack is lost before Ronaldo makes space to shoot (waywardly) off his left boot.
Spain will see out the remainder of normal time on the attack.
21.35 – FULL TIME: There we have it, it’s three and a half hours since the last goal in Euro 2012. On that occasion it was a Xabi Alonso penalty so you have to go back even further to find one in open play.
Who can dig deep in extra time?
21.38 – ‘You have to admire the Portuguese grit.’ Is Eamon Dunphy ok? He didn’t even call Ronaldo a bottler for failing to hit the target in the second half.
I reckon he’s saving it all up so he can spew bile after a penalty shoot-out tonight or perhaps the final.
21.39 – Simple question (so I can go directly to the bookies): Who will win from here?
21.47 – Miguel Delaney ahs been rummaging through his stats bag with one eye on a shoot-out. Notice the important caveat in this one.
21.56 – It’s been tight and tetchy in extra time, but Spain are cranking up the tempo.
First they work an opening for Navas, who blazes wide. Less than a minute later it looks like the opening has arrived.
Who else would Spain want with a chance from six yards? Yes, it fell to Iniesta who could only side-foot his half volley to Patricio’s left. Superb save from the ‘keeper.
22.00 – On the stroke of half time in extra time Spain have a free-kick. 25 yards out on the the left Sergio Ramos (of all people) unleashes a pile-driver which zips an inch over the cross bar.
We’re in the final 15 minutes and both sides have made their final substitutions. Pedro in for Xavi, Custodio in on for Veloso.
22.03 – Ramos wins a duel of strength with Ronaldo. There’s a turn up for the books. Spain look to march on from halfway, but big Ron is writhing, his shirt half off, complaining of back pain.
He’s ok now.
22.06 – Spain are claiming backpass, that most under-employed of rules, after Jesus Navas rifles a low drive on target. Patricio spills it to Pepe who has only red shirts around when the ball hits his foot and moves a foot back into the ‘keeper’s hands.
22.08 – Miguel was off his seat here in the office as Fabregas slipped a ball into an acre of space for Pedro to run onto. Pepe did well to keep up with the substitute and he was forced to check back before the ball was booted out for a (wasted) corner.
22.14 – Pedro has been impressive since he came on, adding some much needed directness to Spain’s approach.
Again, in the 118th minute, he cut in from the right. He rode a challenge from Coentrao. we fancy he’d have been rewarded for doing the less Corinthian thing (or diving) there.
We have penalties!!!
22.15 – Paolo Bento is furiously scribbling five names down on his notepad. Surely he could have done this on the bus here? He’s taking suggestions from all of his coaching staff.
22.16 – Rui Patricio has a towel on his head, Casillas already looks cool. My money’s on the former.
22.18 – ‘I thought Ronaldo was terrible’ says John Giles, presumably prompted by Eamo.
Portugal are now huddled in a 25 man huddle, Bento is pointing out all his peno tactics on his notepad.
Iberia holds its breath.
22.20 – Ronaldo’s shirt is filthy! he whispers some advice into Patricio’s ear…
22.21 – Right, first up is Alonso for Spain: And it’s saved low to Patricio’s left.
22.21 – Portugal have called on Joao Moutinho: He misses too. Casillas saves to his right. Nice height for the keeper.
22.22 – Still no goals when Iniesta steps up… He scores. Of course he does.
22.23 – Pepe: Long run up and side foots a beauty into the corner.
22.23 – Gerard Pique: another beauty.
22.24 – It’s 2-2 when bruno Alves stepped up, only to be called back by Nani… who stutters his run up by side foots into the top corner.
22.25 – Sergio Ramos: Panenka
22.25 – Now Bruno Alves makes his second nervous walk up… and smashes it off the bar.
22.26 – Spain can win with a Fabregas penalty: and it pings in off the inside of the post.
Spain are in the final of Euro 2012.
22.34 – The camera follows Cristiano Ronaldo’s lonely walk off the pitch in Donetsk. The argument is raging as to why he was marked to take penalty number five.
What do you think? Did he bottle it / want to horde all the glory for himself. Or, is there method to the madness of giving him the pressure (but possibly non-existent) fifth spotter.
The debate will rage and rage.
22.38 – All of the focus is on Ronaldo, are people that bored of Spain?
Credit Cesc Fabregas for delivering on the ninth kick, this quote is via @BarcaStuff
“I played a bad game, but I asked to take the 5th penalty. I had a feeling…”
On that note folks, I’ll leave it to ye.
Spain will be favourites to win Sunday’s final when either Germany or Italy will be their opposition. You can follow that game in depth right here tomorrow night.
Until then, stay classy.