It could have all been so different for the industrious striker whose tournament ended in the ultimate heartbreak, writes Amarachi Orie.
Alvaro Morata went from hero to villain after firing Spain’s semi-final clash with Italy into extra-time – only to miss the decisive penalty in the shootout and end his team’s Euros campaign.
The Juventus striker, on loan from Atletico Madrid, may have started the match on the bench but when he emerged on 62 minutes with the Spaniards struggling to score, he soon became their most impactful player.
Sergio Busquets was doing his best to keep the game in Spain’s control but, while they dominated possession, Italy were strong on the counter-attack. The first half ended goalless. The hard work was left for the second.
Spain’s game-changer was still warming the bench after half-time. Then, in the 60th minute, Federico Chiesa coiled the ball into the box and gave Italy the lead. As it stood, Spain were out of the tournament.
Enough was enough for Luis Enrique. Spain picked up the pace and within a minute of the opening goal, the manager made the crucial decision to bring Morata on in place of Ferran Torres.
After less than 20 minutes on the pitch, he scored the equaliser as his clever slot into the bottom left corner cancelled out Italy’s slim advantage and restored his team’s hopes of reaching the final.
It was a thrilling moment for Morata who’s been subjected to harsh criticism from his own supporters for missing numerous chances throughout the tournament. Now he was on the road to redemption.
He continued grafting, whether he was linking up with Daniel Olmo or picking out Busquets. In the first 15 minutes of extra-time, the ball was still in Spain’s possession. Morata was getting himself into good positions where he could beat the keeper to the ball in the box or make a sprint from behind the Italian defenders when needed. Although his attempts were unsuccessful, his energy was infectious.
The Italians were running on tired legs, apart from Domenico Berardi who came on at the same time as Morata. Berardi was the most active player in the second half of added time, firing a warning shot to Spain with his disallowed goal. It became a battle of the fittest – mentally and physically.
A penalty shootout would determine the winner, leaving the fate of the game in the hands of each individual penalty taker. Both sides missed their first penalty attempts but scored their second and third. When it came to the fourth, Morata stepped up to the spot.
His weak right-footed shot failed to reach the goal post as Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma blocked his timid attempt. Morata didn’t look confident in the walk up and, when all eyes were on him, he crumbled under the pressure.
Jorginho, on the other hand, showed nerves of steel as he coolly slotted in the winning penalty to knock Spain out of the Euros – just as Italy had done in 2016.
Morata wasn’t the only one to miss a penalty, so the blame for Spain’s semi-final exit does not fall solely on his shoulders, but Italy have been formidable during this Euros campaign and their keeper guessed correctly when it mattered most.
The 28-year-old’s performances were mixed throughout the tournament and the painful end to the semi-final will take him a long time to get over. You can only hope it will provide a learning curve from which he grows.
Follow Amarachi Orie on Twitter @iamarachii