Álvaro Morata was suddenly away and the noise level rose, a chance to win this game, a shot at redemption. Instead, there was a reaction that could do him even more damage than what went before. Clean through, the Juventus striker smashed his effort off the bar. It was the best of three or four chances he had in an improved second half from Spain. None were taken, however, and from the stands of the Wanda Metropolitano, a small group of supporters began to chant “Morata, how bad you are!”
The end of the game a few moments later, with the score 0-0 between Spain and Portugal, was met with whistles. The reaction was extreme and far from helpful after a match which had been neither sparkling nor awful for Spain.
It had not delivered any really definitive conclusions either. It left doubts, and, let it be said, a bitter taste, even if those voicing their discontent were few. You waited all this time to return to a stadium, all this time to see the national team off to the Euros, and you do that?
Morata certainly may have felt hurt by it, and by the opportunities he did not take, but he was defended by his coach, Luis Enrique.
“It annoys me that the fans have a go at my players,” he said afterwards. “After all the work Morata had done, he’s able to run 40m at the end, trick the goalkeeper and just have the bad luck that the shot goes a fraction high and hits the bar. I think that’s something to applaud enthusiastically. But I must be the person who knows the least about football.”
The place of Spain’s only pure No 9 was rarely in doubt, although Gerard Moreno could have started as central striker. The places of some others were, however, and some initial questions were resolved with the lineups, if not by what followed. Unai Simón was in goal and Marcos Llorente converted to right-back, while Aymeric Laporte got his first game since getting a Spanish passport.
For Portugal, Diogo Jota, Renato Sanches and João Félix were in a line behind Cristiano Ronaldo. Bruno Fernandes began on the bench and João Félix made way at half-time having made no impact.
Almost more significant than the footballers at that stage, and certainly later, was the return of the fans. A crowd of 14,743 made it to the Metropolitano, though Luis Enrique could have been forgiven for thinking some of them should have stayed at home when they whistled him before the game and chanted at its conclusion. The Spain coach had left the injured Sergio Ramos out of the squad, and not chosen anyone from Real Madrid for the first time in the history of the selección.
That said, many applauded too and there was a joy in hearing that forgotten roar, the waves that follow the play, appreciative applause with every intervention. They also booed Ronaldo, a pantomime villain whose presence was announced from the stands. On one such occasion, Ronaldo won the corner from which Portugal thought they had taken the lead. José Fonte, though, had climbed on Pau Torres as he headed in.
The infrequency of the boos underlined that Spain had more possession even if chances were few, Morata’s cross with the outside of his left boot creating the best of them for Ferran Torres. In those moments in which Renato Sanches ran, Spain were exposed. And they almost shot themselves in the foot too when Simón, already questioned, volleyed straight against the onrushing Ronaldo.
As the second half began, Torres twice found Morata with neat passes. Neither time did Morata trouble Rui Patrício, and then he scuffed wide from 10 yards. Next Marcos Llorente gave an exhibition of athleticism, setting up for Pablo Sarabia’s deflected shot to float over. Llorente would later repeat the move, his pull-back going through Morata’s legs. Pepe was removed afterwards, Spanish supporters joining Portuguese in chanting his name. That contrast would prove cruel.
Jota might have put Portugal ahead from Ronaldo’s cross and almost caught Simón soon after, but the goalkeeper’s footwork was good this time. Then Ronaldo should have scored, his header glancing wide.
But Spain made better opportunities, Morata unable to reach Gaya’s cross and Rui Patrício making a sharp late save from Ferran Torres’s header before Morata set off on one last run that could have hurt Portugal but might well have ended up hurting Spain more.
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