Spain survives on Portugese blunder

Portugal's (L-R) Joao Pereira, Pepe, Fabio Coentrao and Cristiano Ronaldo react at the end of the...

Portugal's (L-R) Joao Pereira, Pepe, Fabio Coentrao and Cristiano Ronaldo react at the end of the penalty shoot-out of their Euro 2012 semi-final soccer match against Spain at the Donbass Arena in Donetsk, June 27, 2012. (REUTERS)

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:58 PM ET

DONETSK, UKRAINE - We don't know what the word "(bleep!)" is in Portuguese, but you can bet it was going through the mind of Cristiano Ronaldo as he despondently stared into the Ukrainian night sky Wednesday.

That his Portuguese team had just lost a chance to go to the Euro 2012 final with a penalty shootout defeat (0-0, 4-2 on penalties) at the feet of rival Spain was bitter enough.

But how about the fact that he didn't even get the opportunity to help his team stay alive, thanks to a brutal decision by Portuguese coach Paulo Bento, who deserves to be ripped for that brain cramp?

By having him line up as Portugal's fifth of five scheduled shooters, there was always a chance that Ronaldo, considered one of the top two players in the world, would never have the chance to put boot to ball.

Sure enough, when Portugal's fourth shooter, Bruno Alves, hit the cross bar, all Spain's Cesc Fabregas needed to do was score to leave Ronaldo seething and the Portuguese packing.

That's exactly what they did.

To hear Bento spin doctor an explanation afterward, you would have thought it was no big deal. Try telling that to the millions of Portuguese fans across the globe who at least deserved better than to see their side's title hopes fizzle without its best player even getting an attempt in the penalties against Spanish goalie Iker Casillas.

The issue of whether a match such as this should be decided on penalties is a debate for another day. Distasteful as it might be, it was the same way for both teams.

And, under those conditions, Bento botched it.

"If I had to choose a way of losing, it wouldn't be this one," Bento said afterward. "But Spain have a great team and are going to the final."

Indeed, the Spanish will play the winner of the Germany-Italy semifinal that takes place Thursday in Warsaw. The final goes Sunday at Olympic Stadium in Kiev.

Asked about the head-scratching decision concerning his lineup for the penalties, Bento replied: "Well, we had defined this plan. If it would have been 4-4, (Ronaldo) would have come up and it would have been a different way.

"We had a decided strategy. I don't regret anything."

He should, because it was a bad strategy. And an even worse explanation.

In hockey terms, think about the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano. Canada and the Czech Republic went to a shootout in the semis, a berth in the gold medal game in the balance.

Coach Marc Crawford elected not to pencil in Wayne Gretzky's name against Czech goalie Dominik Hasek. And when Raymond Bourque was stopped by the Dominator to seal Canada's defeat, the image of the Great One sitting on the bench, his head bowed between his legs while attempting to fight the tears of disappointment, is still etched in the minds of many Canadians.

There was a half-hearted joke making the rounds through Gretzky's career that the only thing he wasn't very good at was breakaways. No matter. If you are going to go down, go down with your best guns blazing.

Fourteen years later, Gretzky and Crawford still get asked about the decision.

How long will this one haunt Bento, especially when he arrives in Portugal to a fan base that will have more questions than answers?

During his post-game press conference, Bento was queried a second time about picking Ronaldo fifth. For his part, the manager wanted nothing more to do with the topic.

"As we haven't succeeded, there is no purpose to address this," he said.

Maybe not for him.

In reality, the entire penalty shootout was chaotic for the Portuguese.

Consider that when it was time for Portugal's third shooter to go to the spot, Alves walked all the way up to the ball. At the last moment, however, he was called off by Nani, who then proceeded to score.

With confusion reigning supreme, Alves then returned as Portugal's fourth shooter and went on to rip a shot off the bar.

The rest is history.

Much like Portugal is in this tournament.


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