It was somewhat ironic that it took a goalkeeper to bail out Spain’s misfiring strikers when one, Yann Sommer, had thwarted them for 120 minutes. Indeed, Unai Simon proved to be the unlikely match winner for La Roja as he stopped two penalties in the shootout against Switzerland to make amends for the countless opportunities spurned by his teammates.
While Spain had demonstrated a sharper edge by scoring 10 goals against Slovakia and Croatia, they produced another blunt performance in their Euro 2020 quarter-final, just as they had in their opening two fixtures against Sweden and Poland. Alvaro Morata bore the brunt of the criticism after those games. This time, he wasn’t the only one to blame.
Gerard Moreno finished the match with an Expected Goals (xG) value of 3.3, but with no actual goals. This reflected just how wasteful the Villarreal striker, who also missed a penalty kick earlier in the tournament against Poland, was inside the box as he passed enough chances to score a hat trick.
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There were chances for Dani Olmo, Pablo Sarabia, Mikel Oyarzabal and even Cesar Azpilicueta, yet Spain just couldn’t find the net. Even as Switzerland were reduced to 10 men on 77 minutes, with Remo Freuler shown a dubious red card, the Euro 2008 and 2012 winners failed to make their territorial dominance count.
This wastefulness still wasn’t enough to eliminate Spain, who had Simon to thank in the shootout, but it will cost them one way or another at Euro 2020. Their lack of a world class centre forward, such as a Harry Kane, Romelu Lukaku, Robert Lewandowski or even, at an admittedly lower level than the previous trio, a Ciro Immobile, will be the thing that stops them from going all the way.
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Of course, Spain have won international tournaments before without even playing a recognised striker. At Euro 2012, they thumped Italy 4-0 in the final with a frontline of Cesc Fabregas, Andres Iniesta and David Silva. Fernando Torres made an appearance, but only for the last 15 minutes off the bench.
Back then, though, Spain had goals in other areas of their team. The four goals in that final against Italy were scored by four different players - Jordi Alba, Juan Mata, Silva and Torres. Their system was designed to get as many players as possible into the attacking third regardless of their starting position.
That is not currently the case. In fact, Luis Enrique seems intent on having as many players behind the ball as possible in possession. Marcos Llorente is one player in the Spain squad who could make runs in behind from deep, but he played at right back for the first two games, and has been benched since.
Enrique doesn’t appear to know what he wants from his Spain team. He started with Morata as the central striker, but brought in Moreno to help support him after that. Pablo Sarabia was a fringe figure until he was a starter. Olmo, on the other hand, started as a key man, but fell back into the shadows after a couple passive performances.
Frequently, it seems Enrique finishes with a better team on the pitch than he started with. That certainly appeared to be the case against Switzerland, when Moreno ended up as the central striker with Morata withdrawn. This is what many Spanish fans have been calling for throughout the tournament.
Ordinarily, missed chances wouldn’t concern a manager too much. If the chances are coming, the goals will usually follow. But Spain are now five matches into Euro 2020 and the pattern of their performances can’t be ignored. Enrique’s side might be into the semi finals, but they are one crucial position short of winning the whole thing.
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