The custodian was the hero in Spain’s penalty shootout win against Switzerland on July 2.
Spain confirmed a spot in the semifinals of the UEFA Euro 2020 with a 3-1 win in the penalty shootout against Switzerland on Friday night. La Roja took the early lead through an own goal by Denis Zakaria. Switzerland fought back bravely and found the equalizer through their talisman Xherdan Shaqiri. The game went to penalties and it was Spain’s Unai Simon who held his nerve to deliver a victory.
Unai Simon saved two penalty shots to help Spain advance to the semifinals. The 24-year-old came into the tournament with a lot of pedigree, having impressed for Athletic Bilbao at the La Liga.
He has replicated his club form into the Euros and is being seen as the long term option for Spain. Here are five reasons why Unai Simon should become the first-choice keeper for Spain.
5. An authoritative presence at the back
Despite his young age, Unai Simon has proven himself to be a good communicator and organizer of the defence. He is vocal at the back and has a good sense of defensive formations.
Simon is also an authoritative presence at the back. He comes in confidently to claim the ball where he feels it is his and throws himself into such situations without fear. With more experience at the club and national level, Simon could really be an immovable presence under the bars for La Roja.
4. Secure goalkeeping
An argument could be made for Simon’s awareness of the ball owing to his howler against Croatia. However, that is a small blip that overshadows his goalkeeping capabilities. He proved his doubters wrong with his performance against Switzerland in the quarterfinals of Euro 2020.
Unai Simon was deemed the man of the match against Switzerland, saving two penalties against a side who knocked world champions France out of the tournament in their previous game.
He averages 1.2 saves/game. But that is due to La Roja’s proclivity to have more possession. They have dominated possession in the games that they have played so far. Simon also showed his combative instinct by claiming the ball an average of 3.8 times/game. He has also kept two clean sheets in Euro 2020.
3. Confidence on the ball
Spain’s domination of possession stems from the fact that they play out from the back. Simon is an integral part of this build-up and contributed his share to the play very well.
Simon attempts an average of 32 passes/game with a 96% passing accuracy, which is highly impressive for a goalkeeper. His ball-playing ability could be pivotal to Spain’s gameplay in Euro 2020 and beyond.
2. De Gea’s decreasing stock
Simon’s ascendancy to the goalkeeping role of Spain has coincided with David de Gea’s decreasing stock within the national team’s schemes.
There is no doubt about David de Gea’s capabilities. However, he has not hit the highs of his path-breaking 2017-18 season, when he finished with the most number of clean sheets in the Premier League.
De Gea struggled during the 2018 FIFA World Cup and found himself ousted from the #1 role in the team to Unai Simon. Simon’s temperament, despite his young age has led him to overtake De Gea to the starter role for Spain and it seems that this trend will continue for a long time.
1. Age and experience
Despite his young age, Simon has now matured into one of the best goalkeepers in La Liga. Simon has already racked up 22 clean sheets in 78 games for Athletic Bilbao in the Spanish top flight league.
Despite being only 24, Simon has played three full seasons, making close to 100 appearances for Athletic Bilbao. He has also led them to two Copa del Rey finals. Therefore, Simon possesses experience and has the maturity to back it. His composure while saving shots and on the ball make him an able candidate for the starting spot in Spain’s team sheet for years to come.