Rafa’s Euro Column: The curse is over

We continue our translation of Rafa Benitez’s Euro 2008 column in Spanish newspaper El Mundo. Here, our boss provides his reaction to Spain’s defeat of Italy on penalties.

iThe curse is over

Spain had to rely on penalty kicks last night in order to break their curse and to seal, at the same time, their pass to a semi-final matchup against Russia. Both of the contenders yesterday drew on almost everything until the extra-time was exhausted. Then, the spot kicks from 11 meters out went on our favour.

Earlier, the first half had gone as expected. The absences of Pirlo and Gatusso left the Italians without their most creative player and their workhorse in midfield. Ambrosini, positioned towards the left, and Perrota or Aquilani, to the right, didn’t provide any depth to their team which could only rely on long balls to Luca Toni, broken plays or Cassano’s ability on the left flank. Spain, dominating the possession of the ball near the opposing penalty box, were looking for the key pass at any moment. It wasn’t easy because of the accumulation of players in the same place, but the fouls that were called near the box, and those that weren’t, presented a threat to Buffon. Luis wanted to see more play between the lines, and the positional change between Silva and Iniesta yielded fruit to some menacing long shots. Despite that, we reached half-time with a nil-nil draw that didn’t reward Spain’s best play.

After half-time, the Italian play was much improved. Specially with the addition of Camoranesi, Italy had their chances. And Spain also had theirs thanks to the added depth provided by Cesc’s play. But nothing prevented that both teams were doomed for extra-time. Once there, the tiredness on both teams was quite evident. Finally, the penalty kicks decided the contest.

The favourites fall

In the rest of the games, curiously, all the favourites lost. Germany, playing simple and effective football and taking advantage of the set pieces, left Portugal on the curb. Scolari’s men, with lots of quality, were not able to surpass the well-ordered German team. They paid for their defensive mistakes and now the departure of Scolari to Chelsea and Madrid’s interest on Ronaldo will once again be the main headlines related to Portugal. Ballack pointed to the change in the system as the key to the improvement of this team’s performance. His position, behind the striker and the protection of two midfielders at his back, gave the team more solidness.

The match between Croatia and Turkey was, once again, an epic for the ottomans. They made another comeback in the last minute, leveled the match, to win, after extra-time, on penalties. In a very tense duel, with both teams well-organized and, later on, disorganized, many players surfaced on both sides, to show their individual quality and, above all, showing effort, great effort and passion. Fatih Terim highlighted the confidence and determination of his men as the keys for the victory. I completely agree with him.

And to confirm the revolution of the modest teams, Russia finished off one of the best teams in the tournament: Holland. Displaying a good play on attack, and especially on the counter-attack, the Russians created many chances and at the end justice was made. The better team, won. The match was very open, both teams reached the opposing goal rather easily but Hiddink’s men attacked with more clarity and frequency. They deserved to go through. The ‘˜oranje’ offensive system, with two wingers and a striker, was very weak on defense. Good luck in the semifinal.i