It was Unai Simón's day against Switzerland and deservedly so. Having picked himself up from his major blunder which led to Croatia’s opening goal in the last 16, the Spanish keeper saved two penalties in the shootout with such authority that it killed the morale of the fourth Swiss shooter, who hammered his shot over the bar as a result.
Spain’s failures in the first two games of the competition are all but forgotten now as La Roja return to the semifinals of this great competition, thanks to the hands of a young man who is a refreshing throwback to the legendary Athletic keepers of days gone by: Blasco, Carmelo, Iribar and Zubizarreta. At just 24, the door is open to his ownership of Spain's No.1 jersey for the next decade or so.
A noticeable performance dip for Spain
Spain have managed to reach the semi-finals after a poor 90 minutes but a better showing in extra time. It was a game well below the levels of last two against Croatia and Slovakia, in which Spain took an early lead through an own goal as Jordi Alba’s shot from a Koke corner was helped in by Zakaria (the replacement for the sanctioned Swiss captain, Xhaka), leaving Sommer with no chance.
From there, Spain played slowly and comfortably, but without verve or grace. Switzerland, hurt by the absence of Xhaka, weren’t great either but looked threatening from corners, as each Shaqiri delivery was won by their center backs. When half time came, something smelled off. And after the break it got worse as Switzerland pressed for an equalizer.
And their efforts paid off as the equalizer finally came on the back of a defensive mix-up involving Laporte and Pau Torres. But unlike Spain’s goal, which came for free, Switzerland had been working on the equalizer for quite a while.
Spain finally woke up
Only then did Spain wake up and soon came the stroke of luck that was the expulsion of Freuler, who was handed a straight red for a brutal challenge on Gerard Moreno. That upset Switzerland, who were only concerned about reaching extra time and, if necessary, penalties.
Spain played very well in extra time, with speed, control and the finishing touch, but Sommer was solid in goal. And so our fate ended up in the hands of Unai Simón, who was immense in the shootout. It was an evening that the young Athletic keeper will never forget.