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Simon saves lift Spain past Swiss on penalties to reach semis

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ST PETERSBURG: Goalkeeper Unai Simon was the hero as Spain edged past 10-man Switzerland 3-1 on penalties on Friday to set up a Euro 2020 semi-final against either Belgium or Italy.

After a 1-1 draw in Saint Peters­burg which saw the Swiss play for 43 minutes a man down, Simon made two saves in the shoot-out to help keep Spain’s bid for a record fourth European crown alive.

It was heartbreak for Swit­zerland, who were bidding for reach the semi-finals of a major tournament for the first time in their history.

Spain forged ahead early on when Denis Zakaria put through his own net, but Switzerland were the better side for long periods and Xherdan Shaqiri, standing in for the suspended Granit Xhaka as captain, equalised in the 68th minute.

The Swiss were reduced to 10 men with 13 minutes remaining, though, when midfielder Remo Freuler was controversially dismissed for a tackle on Gerard Moreno.

Switzerland goalkeeper Yann Sommer, the hero of the penalty shoot-out win over world champions France in the last 16, made a string of fine saves in extra time.

But Simon saved from Fabian Schaer and Manuel Akanji, while Ruben Vargas blazed over in a tense finale as Spain snuck through, with Mikel Oyarzabal smashing home the winning spot-kick. Spain’s players and coaching staff poured onto the field at Saint Petersburg Stadium to celebrate with Oyarzabal as many from the Switzerland team fell to their knees inside the center circle.

Luis Enrique’s men will take on either Belgium or Italy, who meet in Munich later Friday, at Wembley on Tuesday.

The team is two wins away from emulating the country’s golden generation, which won European titles in 2008 and 2012.

The remaining quarter-finals will be played on Saturday, when the Czech Republic face Denmark in Baku before England head to Rome to play Ukraine.

Having overcome historic rivals Germany in the last 16, facing Ukraine might seem like an easier proposition for England. Turns out, though, that the match at the Stadio Olimpico might be England’s toughest test.

That’s because it’s the only match of Euro 2020 that England will have to play away from the friendly confines of Wembley Stadium.

Making matters more complicated is that the Italian government has explicitly warned Britain-based England fans to stay away from the game unless they can prove they have observed five days of quarantine since arriving.

For a team like England that is known for its traveling supporters, that’s a major blow.

“We’ve got to create our own atmosphere on Saturday in Rome, which were capable of doing,” said England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford. “The fans were tremendous the other night and throughout the group stages as well. I think that gives us added motivation for the game on Saturday to come back for a semi-final with 60,000 fans.”

While England go into the game still buzzing from the electric atmosphere at Wembley, Ukraine are also on a high after Artem Dovbyk’s header at the end of extra-time gave them a 2-1 win over Sweden.

Denmark will face the Czechs exactly three weeks after midfielder Christian Eriksen collapsed on the field following a cardiac arrest in the team’s opening game and had to be resuscitated with a defibrillator.

While Eriksen recovers initially in the hospital and now at home Denmark have improved at Euro 2020. A 4-1 win over Russia got Denmark out of the group stage after two losses. Beating Wales 4-0 in the round of 16 matched the team’s best showing since Danish Dynamite won the 1992 European Championship.

Denmark have not reached a major tournament semi-final since lifting the trophy 29 years ago, when they initially failed to qualify but were late replacements for Yugoslavia. The only European quarter-final appearance since then came in 2004, a 3-0 loss to the Czechs.

The Czechs, who won in 1976 and were runners-up in 1996, made their last appearance in the quarters in 2012.

Published in Dawn, EOS, July 4th, 2021

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