LONDON (AP) — Widely criticized, threatened with his life and then surprisingly dropped from the team, Álvaro Morata has faced all kinds of setbacks at the European Championship.
With one goal, he looked to have put that all aside.
Morata came off the bench in the semifinals on Tuesday, only seconds after Federico Chiesa had given Italy the lead in the 60th minute, and scored the equalizer for his third goal at Euro 2020.
His place in the team — his very worth for the team — should have been cemented right then, right there. But the ensuing penalty shootout, so often an event that can reduce great players to scapegoats, did just that.
Morata sent his penalty toward the right side, but Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma dived to his left and blocked the ball from going into the net.
“This group deserved more, much more,” Morata wrote on Instagram. “Like all of Spain, it was also my dream, our dream. I can only say that I am proud to have been part of this team. To those who have believed in us, THANK YOU. Soccer can be very tough at times. Long live Spain.”
Moments later, Jorginho scored. That gave Italy a spot in Sunday’s final against either England or Denmark, and gave Spain nothing but a long trip home.
Morata had started every game so far at Euro 2020 despite widespread criticism for his struggles in front of goal. Spain coach Luis Enrique said the decision to drop him for the match against Italy had to do with an injury.
“He (Morata) has an abductor issue. And it really says a lot about his personality that even despite that he wanted to take a penalty,” Luis Enrique said. “He has gone through some tough times in this competition but he was brilliant. He really created a lot of uncertainty within the Italian ranks. He scored, of course, so he was excellent.”
The 28-year-old Morata walked straight off the field after Jorginho’s winning penalty.
“I haven’t been able to speak to him because he’s had to go to doping control but I’ll go and see him now,” Luis Enrique said.
It was the first time Spain had lost in the semifinals of a European Championship or World Cup.
Morata scored three goals in his six matches in the tournament but it was his misses that drew more attention. That included missing a penalty against Slovakia and an almost open goal against Poland as he attempted to score from the rebound after Gerard Moreno had hit the post with a penalty.
Morata didn’t take a penalty against Switzerland in the quarterfinals because he had already been substituted off the field.
In the shootout against Italy, Morata was not the only Spain player to fail. Dani Olmo also sent his shot over the bar, just after Italy midfielder Manuel Locatelli had seen his opening kick saved by Unai Simón.
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