Unai Simon comes to the rescue as Spain’s lottery winning luck ends Switzerland’s run as they reach the semis

July 3, 2021

“Redemption, thy name is Unai Simon!”…the hero of the hour, the name that is being hailed from the streets of Spain to the bars in Saint Petersburg is none other than their custodian “Unai Simon”. What a game this guy had last night!-Incredible, Exquisite, and by far the best that he could have had possibly done. The performance that this guy had put in was by far his best. “Every game is a new game”, Unai Simon said just hours before the evening kick-off of their quarter-final clash against Switzerland when he talked about his own goal mistake against Croatia.

Unai Simon celebrating

Luis Enrique later commented in the press conference that Unai Simon has the memory of a goldfish. Well, that memory served him right. When you are preparing yourself for a quarter-final clash with an as little number of international caps that this guy had then it is always better to program your brain and hit the refresh button. “I tortured myself and watched it six or seven times”, the goalkeeper had admitted his error and stretched himself to such an extent so that he does not make a mistake like that throughout his career.

If anyone would have come up to me some weeks before and said that Spain is one of the title-favorites of this tournament then I would have said that you have lost your mind. I would have explained to that person why I said what I said because Luis Enrique’s ‘verticality’ was too much to take. But after the excruciatingly painful two hours of Spanish dominance and some glimpse of a 10-man Swiss display, I swallowed the pill and told myself “Let this game progress for the penalties”.

I would like to clear myself here that it had been known to me Spain is not good at penalties as they were knocked out by Russia on penalties in the 2018 FIFA World Cup on Russian soil. But the heart hoped that this time it could be different. Switzerland had already proved that they can convert emphatically when it comes to penalties as they burnt France out of the competition on penalties and for that their custodian, Yaan Sommer could take a bow as he stopped the 23-year-old French Wonderkid Kylian Mbappe from scoring.

After the plethora of attacks and missed opportunities against a one-man down-side, Spain had been hungry for the victory, and after beating Croatia with a 5-3 margin on extra-time they were the King of mind games and slow-severed triumphs of glory. The referee Michael Oliver had blown his whistle and had a little chat with the two goalkeepers as both the sides prepared for the penalty shoot-out of the night.

The experienced soldier of the Spanish regiment, Sergio Busquets had come in first-up to face Sommer and much to his frustration hit the post. Gavranovic came up and scored against Unai Simon. Dani Olmo did not make an error as he nabbed the ball in and they were again at the level. The substitute Fabian Schar who had scored from the spot four days back came in and he was denied. Rodri, the Manchester City midfielder who was substituted by Luis Enrique some minutes before in place of Pedri so that he could score from the penalty spot but he missed it much to everyone’s surprise. When the camera’s turned towards the Spanish bench all that anyone could see was exasperation and agony.

Yaan Sommer looks after as Sergio Busquets missed his penalty

Manuel Akanji, the Swiss defender whose brave and bold defensive interceptions had saved his team from conceding more than one goal throughout the night missed his opportunity to put his team on the lead. Gerard Moreno came in and scored. Ruben Vargas, the 22-year-old midfielder entered in and missed his target as his shot went wide above the crossbar. Mikel ‘Big Foot’ Oyarzabal, the guy on whose shoulders the fate had been laid for Spain went to the spot as his shot took Spain to the semis of the UEFA EURO 2020.

Mikel Oyarzabal celebates with Unai Simon after his brilliant penalty

The moment, every Spanish supporter will remember for generations to come after Andres Iniesta’s World Cup-winning goal in 2010. The Spanish bench busted out in joy and celebrations as Unai Simon was surrounded by his teammates in a giant team huddle as they went on to savor the serendipity of the events of the day.

“This shows what stuff he’s made of”, Luis Enrique said about Unai Simon in his post-match press conference. But, his teammate Koke had said something amusing “He’s got balls this big”. Well, you cannot argue with that after he made such ballsy saves after saves throughout his time at the goal.

The circumstances that had led up to the penalty shoot-out were somewhat like this. La Rojas had snatched the lead early on in the game when Koke’s outswinger from the right corner found Jordi Alba as he whipped in a fierce left-footed half-volleyed shot which met Zakaria’s leg and diverted in at the back of the net with just 8 minutes at the clock.

Jordi Alba’s goal story

The Swiss were unable to launch their tactical game plan which worked successfully against the World Champions. They were unable to set their midfield play as Spain dominated much of the possession. Pedri and Sergio Busquets did their job with picture-perfect accuracy as they controlled the possessional play from the central line and Koke committed himself as he ventured forward along with Morata and Ferran Torres to contribute to the attack whenever he had the ball. This made the high pressing Switzerland side drop to their half and made them play with four defenders inside the box along with two midfielders digging deep to defend.

The actual threat for the La Rojas came in from the Swiss when at the 68th minute the stand-in skipper of the day, Xherdan Shaqiri swept his low right-footed effort into the far corner way past Unai Simon after the defensive mix-up of Pau Torres and Aymeric Laporte when Freuler served the ball in for Shaqiri.

Shaqiri’s equalizer

The intricate details of all the attacks that were hurled in by the Spanish regiment on Vladimir Petkovic’s side were mostly guided from both the flanks and after Freuler’s red card dismissal at the 77th minute Spain had played more in the Swiss half and did not let them get a shot anywhere near the goal. The extra time made the Spanish fans moan in dismay as Mikel Oyarzabal and Marcos Llorente missed on doubling the scoreline. But, as they say, “All’s well that ends well”.

Marcos Llorente battling it out with Akanji

Switzerland had shown that they were one of the fanatical sides in this year’s European Championship and the leadership of Vladimir Petkovic guided them to the Quarter-finals. The feisty little nation that they are if they continue building their national team up we can hope for better results from them in future. As for Spain, all of the soldiers had redeemed themselves and exhibited that although the ‘Golden Generation’ of Xavi, Iniesta, and Iker Casillas had gone but still the present generation of Alvaro Morata, Gerard Moreno and Unai Simon can take a team to reach the semis where they will face Italy.

Team News:

Switzerland: Sommer, Elvedi, Akanji, Rodriguez, Widmer, Freuler, Zakaria, Zuber, Shaqiri, Embolo, Seferovic.

Subs: Mbabu, Vargas, Mvogo, Sow, Fassnacht, Benito, Gavranovic, Fernandes, Kobel, Schar, Comert, Lotomba.

Spain: Simon, Azpilicueta, Laporte, Pau Torres, Jordi Alba, Koke, Busquets, Gonzalez, Ferran Torres, Morata, Sarabia.

Subs: de Gea, Diego Llorente, Marcos Llorente, Gerard, Thiago, Garcia, Sanchez, Gaya, Rodri, Olmo, Traore, Oyarzabal.

Referee: Michael Oliver (England)

Star of the Match: Unai Simon.

Unai Simon with the Star of the Match award