Atlético Madrid midfielders Koke and Marcos Llorente will play on at EURO 2020 after Spain progressed to the semifinals on Friday.
Koke started and played 90 minutes, while Llorente dazzled in extra time as Spain held their nerve in St. Petersburg — the site of their 2018 World Cup elimination — to beat upstart Switzerland 3-1 on penalties.
Spain opened the scoring less than eight minutes into the game when Jordi Alba’s shot deflected off midfielder Denis Zakaria. The situation went from bad to worse 15 minutes later when Breel Embolo — arguably Switzerland’s most dangerous player at this tournament — pulled his hamstring and had to exit the game.
Spain played cautiously and conservatively after going ahead, taking few risks and maintaining possession into the second half. But Remo Freuler pounced on a defensive mixup between Aymeric Laporte and Pau Torres to slide the ball to an unmarked Xherdan Shaqiri, who duly deposited the 68th minute equalizer.
Less than 10 minutes later, Freuler was sent off for a dangerous two-footed slide tackle on Gerard Moreno — the decision to issue a straight red was controversial, and Freuler was going for the ball on the play. The red card changed the game’s complexion completely, and Spain overcame the post-equalizer jitters to dominate proceedings the rest of the way.
Luis Enrique’s men had several chances to end the game before penalties, but Swiss goalkeeper Yann Sommer made several outstanding saves to keep his team alive. Sommer stopped Gerard three times, and Leipzig winger Dani Olmo saw multiple shots veer wide. Llorente had two goal-bound efforts blocked, first by Manuel Akanji, then Ricardo Rodríguez.
In the shootout, Sergio Busquets clattered the opening spot kick off the base of the post before round of 16 hero Mario Gavranović gave Switzerland the advantage. But they would not score again, as Unai Simón stopped Akanji and Fabian Schär before Ruben Vargas’ penalty went into orbit. Olmo and Gerard converted to end a drought of six straight missed Spanish penalties, setting the stage for Mikel Oyarzabal to roll home the winning spot kick to Sommer’s left.
Koke was taken off just before extra time began after produced another sparkling display. He completed 90 percent of his passes once more and notched four key passes — Atlético’s captain is right at home in Luis Enrique’s three-man midfield. Llorente, who replaced Koke, played in midfield for the first time at EURO 2020 and rather enjoyed running at tired legs in extra time — he attempted three shots and landed three key passes, while also picking up three fouls.
Spain will play the winner of the Belgium-Italy quarterfinal next. Both EURO 2020 semifinals will be held at Wembley Stadium in London, along with the final on July 11.
SUI XI Sommer; Widmer (Mbabu 99’), Elvedi, Akanji, Rodríguez; Zakaria (Schär 99’), Freuler (red card 77’); Embolo (Vargas 23’), Zuber (Fassnacht 91’), Shaqiri (Sow 80’); Seferović (Gavranović 81’)
Goal Shaqiri 68’
SPA XI Simón; Azpilicueta, Laporte, Pau Torres (Thiago 113’), Alba; Koke (Llorente 90’), Busquets, Pedri (Rodri 119’); Ferrán Torres (Oyarzabal 91’), Sarabia (Olmo 46’), Morata (Gerard 54’)
Goal Zakaria o.g. 8’