Planning for the future 

Sergio Ramos has admitted that the ‘Panenka’ penalty that gave Spain the initiative in their 4-2 penalty shoot-out win over Portugal on Wednesday had been pre-planned.

The Real Madrid defender beat Portugal goalkeeper Rui Patricio with a chipped penalty to put Spain 3-2 ahead and after Bruno Alves hit the crossbar with his attempt, Cesc Fabregas took Spain into Sunday’s final in Kiev.

“I’d planned it in advance, I won’t lie,” he told reporters after receiving the man-of-the-match award.

The defender had missed a penalty in Real Madrid’s Champions League semi final shootout defeat to Bayern Munich and that experience came in handy last night.

“After my last experience with penalties with Real Madrid in the Champions League, people said I wasn’t ready for the responsiblity of taking a penalty.

“But I had confidence in myself and I wanted to try again.”

He added: “It was a risk, of course, but I had seen how the goalkeeper moved and I was pretty sure he would go one way or the other. It was lucky, but it was great for me.”

Not haunted by penalty miss

Another player who missed  a penalty for Real Madrid against Bayern Munich, was Cristiano Ronaldo, but there was no chance of that coming back to haunt him last night. Ronaldo did not even get the chance to take a spot-kick as Portugal were already eliminated by the time it came for him to take his.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. By assigning him the fifth penalty, Portugal left their most reliable penalty taker to take the most pressurised spot-kick, while allowing him the maximum opportunity for personal glory. Only, with two players missing ahead of him, the glory was not to be his.

There were suggestions that Ronaldo demanded to take the final penalty to guarantee the spotlight would shine on him, but the forward said the sequence of takers had been decided in advance by the coach, Paulo Bento.

“I feel sad,” Ronaldo said. “Losing a semi final in a penalty shootout is always painful, but it is a lottery, the luckier team wins. The decision on who to shoot the fifth penalty was unanimous.”

The abiding image of the evening was Ronaldo, looking to the skies, a rueful expression on his face, which appeared to say, ‘there goes another Ballon d’Or.’

Press Gang

There was little noticable criticism directed towards Ronaldo in the Portuguese press. Insetad, there was general pride in the spirited nature of the performance against the World and European champions.

Público’s ”‘We fell as a great team should, with honour and pride,’ said Paulo Bento.” was typical of the headlines.

In Spain, there was an acknowledgement of the similarities between last night’s win and the penalty shootout victory over Italy 4 years ago.

“Spain’s star still shines,” said one headline in Marca, while another read: ”Iker and Cesc repeat history,” .

As for Ronaldo, who as already mentioned missed for Real Madrid against Bayern Munich, there was sympathy.

“Cristiano: ‘there was no ghost from Bayern,’” read the headline.

Looking ahead to tonight’s game, Germany’s Bild believes an omen is written in the left-hand of Joachim Löw. “Jogi has it in hand,” the paper quips.

According to palm expert Werner Giessing: “The hand image shows that Joachim Löw is on course to reach the zenith of his career and he will lead his team to the title.”

Sticking to his guns

Italy will not sacrifice “two years’ work” by reverting to a more defensive approach when they face Germany in their Euro 2012 semi-final on Thursday, according to coach Cesare Prandelli.

“We cannot sit deep [against Germany],” Prandelli told a news conference ahead of the Warsaw clash.

Famed for their defensive organisation Italy have, under Prandelli, cast off the cloak of catenaccio and adopted a more expansive game.

“It would be a shame to waste two years’ work, added Prandelli. “Germany will press us high up the pitch. We are ready for this.”

“It’s risky, but it’ll be a joy taking on a top team like Germany. We go into the game calm and relaxed, with the belief that we’ll be able to play the way we’ve planned it.”

You don’t have to be mad to work here…

Italy midfielder Daniele de Rossi has rejected the idea maverick striker Mario Balotelli is a bad influence on the dressing room.

The 21-year-old has earned a reputation as one of the more unpredictable characters in world football, but according to De Rossi, he is a pleasure to play alongside.

“Mario is not a difficult character at all,” he said.

“We treat him as one of the squad, nothing more, nothing less.

“There is no need for us to have a word with him, that is up to the coach, and we don’t need to make any extra effort with him.

“On Sunday I shouted at him at half-time but that has happened thousands of times in my career with players.

“But there are no problems with him and there have never been any.

Prandelli, meanwhile, was asked by a Chinese journalist, if he “knew what went on in Mario Balotelli’s world?”

“Great question,” Prandelli replied. “It is interesting trying to work out what goes on in the head of a 21-year-old man,” he said to much laughter.

“He has changed radically since he has been with us.”

Record viewing figures

Spain’s penalty shoot-out win over Portugal in the Euro 2012 semi-final attracted a record audience of more than 18 million television viewers in Spain.

The audience peaked when Cesc Fabregas scored the decisive penalty. That moment delivered victory to Spain, with a total 19.086 million people watching, equal to 87.3 percent of the audience.

That made it “the most viewed minute in the history of (Spanish) television”, Kantar Media figures, released by television audience consultancy Barlovento Comunicacion said.

For the duration of the shootout,  there was an average of 18million people watching.

“The nearly 13 minutes of penalties averaged 18.141 million viewers and 83.3 percent of the share, the most viewed programme in (Spanish) history,” the report said.

Interestingly, the audience for the the 90 minutes of normal time, was 14.182 million, meaning that between 4-5 million tuned in to watch the penalties. Did they know something we didn’t?

Bert no longer inert

Bert Van Marwijk has resigned as Holland coach after a dismal Euro 2012 campaign, which saw the Dutch lose all three of their group matches.

A statement on the KNVB’s website said: “On the initiative of Bert van Marwijk, the KNVB and Bert van Marwijk decided on Wednesday to end the coach’s contract with immediate effect.”

Van Marwijk said that he felt “responsible” after the team lost all three of their matches to Group B rivals Germany, Denmark and Portugal to finish bottom of the table without a point.

“I have severe doubts, but have decided to take this step anyway,” van Marwijk said in a statement.

His resignation comes just two years after he led Holland to World Cup final defeat to Spain, a match best remembered for the violent approach adopted by the Dutch which resulted in them receiving 9 yellow cards and one red.

Under his guidance the Oranje had lost just four of 45 matches.

The search for Van Marwijk’s successor begins immediately and the infighting that undermined the Dutch campaign in Ukraine will seem like a picnic compared to the bunfight that will surround the selection of a new national coach.

The candidates to succeed the 60-year-old include Ronald Koeman, Ruud Gullit, Frank de Boer, Guus Hiddink, Louis van Gaal, Co Adriaanse and Frank Rijkaard.

My advice would be to lock them in a room and let them fight it out: biggest ego wins. My money would be on van Gaal.

Holiday in Ukraine

Since the hosts have been knocked out, we’ve heard little about life in the respective host countries, notably Ukraine, the country upon which most eyes were trained.

Some 7 million people have crossed the Ukrainian border since the stat of the Euro 2012 European Football Championship, according to the press service of the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine. Judging by the empty seats at some of the games, one can assume that not all of them were there to attend matches. The rest, one can imagine were on the lookout for the Ukrainian prostitutes they’d heard so much about.

Some 330,000 people and 65,000 vehicles passed the state border of Ukraine yesterday.

“This is primarily due to Ukraine’s holding the Euro 2012 semifinal match between Portugal and Spain. Before this the largest number of people, particularly over 340,000, crossed the state border before the Euro 2012 quarterfinal matches,” read a statement.

“The State Border Guard Service of Ukraine expects the number of passengers to grow significantly during the final match to be held in Kyiv,” the press service said.

If they’re not heading to the matches, where are all these people heading? Well, some, apparently, are in the hunt for a wife. Ukraine has, according to this report, an abundance of attractive, young woman, all looking for a football fan for a husband.

Explaining, the appeal of the travelling football fan to Ukraine women, Maryna David, who had already succeeded in finding a foreign husband, said: “Ukrainian men mostly lack generosity and good manners.”

Surely, though, the appeal would be offset somewhat by the fact that you’re marrying someone whose first love will always be football.

Quote of the day

“It’s strange what happens in life sometimes. However badly things are going for the country in terms of the crisis and all that, football has been a kind of oasis that has allowed people to forget everything a little bit.”

Iker Casillas on the restorative effects of football.

Terror on the streets of Warsaw

Poland’s Interior Ministry has moved to allay fears about security at Euro 2012 after a packet of explosives was discovered on a raft floating down the River Bug on Poland’s eastern border.

“The government convened the Crisis Management Team [but] after analyzing the case, it was found that there is no threat to the safety of persons or places in Poland,” Interior Ministry spokesperson Malgorzata Wozniak told the PAP news agency.

The explosive package was accompanied by a mobile phone, the RMF radio station reported, Wednesday, with a photograph depicting an image of Warsaw’s National Stadium, the setting tonight of the semi final between Germany and Italy.

Also on the raft was a package of contraband cigarettes.

“Taking into account the fact that this is the first such important signal during Euro 2012 of the possibility of a terrorist incident it was decided to raise the first level of alarm on a four-level scale,” the Interior Ministry spokesperson said, adding that this was merely a “proactive” measure.