Mon, 25 Sep 2023

BRAGA, Portugal, Sept. 27 (Xinhua) -- Athletic Bilbao duo Unai Simon and forward Nico Williams were decisive as Spain won 1-0 away to Portugal to book their place in the semifinals of the UEFA Nations League A.

Goalkeeper Unai made a series of vital saves to keep Spain in the game when they were second best to the Portuguese for most of the game. Nico's pace pulled holes in the Portuguese defense in the last 20 minutes and he set up Alvaro Morata for the winning goal in the closing minutes.

Spain coach Luis Enrique brought Morata into the Spain attack, while Hugo Guillamon, Jose Luis Gaya and Dani Carvajal came into attack and the entire midfield was changed with Koke, Rodri and Carlos Soler all starting.

Meanwhile, Portugal fielded a team with Bruno Fernandes, Bernardo Silva, Diogo Jota and Cristiano Ronaldo offering plenty of options in attack.

Both sides stayed true to their styles in the first half with Portugal more direct in their play, while the Spanish looked to control the ball, starting their passing moves from the back, which caused a couple of problems for Unai.

However, despite one nervous moment which saw him almost commit a penalty against Ronaldo, Unai was Spain's best player in the first half. The Bilbao keeper denied Ruben Neves, who tried his luck from distance and then pulled off a magnificent stop to frustrate Jota, who had cut in from the left.

Bruno Fernandes then beat him with a thumping shot that brought the crowd to its feet before they realized the ball had crashed into the side netting.

Meanwhile, Spain had more of the ball, but failed to create any serious threat against the goal defended by Diogo Costa.

Unai saved Spain again in the second minute of the second half, getting down well to save from Ronaldo, who was clean through.

With his side producing nothing, Spain coach Luis Enrique made a triple chance on the hour, replacing Koke, Sarabia, Torres and Hugo Guillamon with Pedri, Gavi, Sergio Busquets and Yeremy Pino, with Williams coming on soon afterwards.

The changes sparked some life into Spain, with Morata having their first effort on target in the 70th minute and Williams also making Costa work a couple of minutes later.

Morata then had Costa at full stretch in the 76th minute as Spain began to pin the Portuguese deep in their own half, and he scored the vital goal with two minutes left to play.

Carvajal crossed from the right and the impressive Williams was in the right place to head the ball down to leave Morata with a simple close-range finish.

Unai produced another save to frustrate Ronaldo a couple of minutes later, but with the Portuguese losing their heads, as shown by Joao Felix's bad challenge on Gaya, the Spanish held on with few problems.

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