For nearly three weeks now, the UEFA Euro 2012 has been playing out across various pitches in the host countries of Poland and Ukraine, with 16 national teams battling for the right to be known as champions of Europe. The group stages whittled the participants down to 8 nations, and the Quarter-final knockout round has produced the final 4 squads: Portugal, Spain, Germany, and Italy.
Here at STAT BOX STORIES, we’re picking up the action in the Semi-finals as these teams meet to decide who will be playing July 1st in Kiev, Ukraine, with the championship on the line. Today’s match is set to take place at Donbass Arena in Donetsk, Ukraine, between Portugal and the defending UEFA Euro Champions (as well as 2010 FIFA World Cup Champions) Spain.
Portugal emerged from Group B of the tournament draw in second place behind Germany, losing 1-0 to the Germans in their first match before picking up a 3-2 win over Denmark and a 2-1 win over the Netherlands. In the Quarter-finals, Cristiano Ronaldo’s 79th-minute strike was all the Portuguese needed to secure a 1-0 victory over Group A winner Czech Republic and earn their chance to topple the defending champions.
Spain took the top spot in Group C, opening the tournament with a 1-1 draw against Italy before piling on for a 4-0 win over Ireland and securing a 1-0 victory over Croatia. In the Quarter-finals, Spain faced Group D runner-up France, earning a 2-0 victory on two goals from Xabi Alonso to keep their quest for more national team glory alive.
Although Spain is the higher-rated side in the UEFA Euro 2012 expansion pack for EA SPORTS FIFA 12, I elected to use them for selfish reasons; with FC Barcelona earning my support in La Liga, I could not bring myself to use Portugal and Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo. Would Cristiano be able to spark the computer AI in an upset bid against my still-shaky skills on the pitch? Read on to find out!
Early on in the game, there was little to establish dominance for either side. The first notable action came in the 16th minute, when Nani on Portugal’s side was limited by an injury sustained in a rough collision. Just minutes later, Spain’s daring saw consequences, with a yellow card shown to defender Gerard Piqué as a way for the officials to assert adherence to the rules.
As time wore on in the first half, it appeared as though the sides might go into halftime with an even scoreline. However, a throw-in for Spain in Portugal territory put the ball on David Silva’s boots, and the Manchester City man found Chelsea’s Fernando Torres—on to provide Spain with a defined striker in the match—for the opening score of the match in the 43rd minute.
Halftime began with a substitution on Portugal’s side, with Hélder Postiga subbing out for Silvestre Varela. Though this personnel decision did not immediately pay dividends, the substitution of Hugo Viana for Raul Meireles in the 77th minute gave Viana the chance to set up a wonderful chance for the Portuguese. Varela found himself with space in the Spain box in the 78th minute and did not let the opportunity pass him by as he placed the ball in the back of Iker Casillas’ net for an even 1-1 scoreline.
With opportunities still slanted in favor of the Spanish, however, it did not take long for a solid shot on Rui Patricio’s goal to be deflected out of bounds for a Spain corner kick. On the ensuing kick, Xavi Hernández found the head of Sergio Busquets on the far end of the goal, with the ball taking a fortuitous bounce to Sergio Ramos for a header go-ahead goal.
Once more out in front, Spain kept the pressure on and a solid pass from Torres to Xavi Alonso resulted in a Rui Patricio save but a rebound which found its way back to Torres for the final goal of the match and a 3-1 score in favor of Spain, who would find themselves booking a trip to Kiev for the UEFA Euro 2012 final.
In terms of team stats for each side, Spain held an impressive lead in both shots (11 to 4) and shots on target (8 to 4), while maintaining a 55% to 45% advantage in possession. Each team had 16 tackles, with Spain taking the only foul for a yellow card. Portugal won the battle for corner kicks 2 to 1, but Spain’s lone corner resulted in the winning header.
The Man of the Match was Sergio Ramos of Spain, whose volleyed header represented the deciding goal in the contest. Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo—thought to be amongst the top players in the world—was smothered by a concerted Spanish effort to keep him from having an impact on the result, and saw only a single shot on target for the match. Fernando Torres’ 2 goal night led all players, while Rui Patricio and Iker Casillas had busy nights in goal with 7 saves and 4 saves respectively.
The real-life winner of this match will be known this afternoon; will this STAT BOX STORIES playthrough prove a correct prediction? Be sure to watch the match for yourself to find out, and come back tomorrow as STAT BOX STORIES stages the other semi-final match between Germany and Italy to see who the other squad will be in the final!