COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Unai Simon made one of the biggest blunders of the European Championship, then made one of the tournament’s biggest saves.
The Spain goalkeeper rebounded from an error that led to a bizarre own-goal to help his team reach the Euro 2020 quarterfinals after a 5-3 extra-time win over Croatia on Monday.
“Unai gave a lesson to kids everywhere,” Spain coach Luis Enrique said. “Football is made up of errors and his reaction — making great saves — was an example of why we have such confidence in him.”
The own-goal came in the 20th minute when Spain midfielder Pedri Gonzalez played a long back-pass to Simon from near the halfway line. The goalkeeper tried to control the bouncing ball but it went over his foot and then trickled into net behind him.
Instead of having his confidence shaken, Simon was nearly flawless after that.
He made a key save to prevent an equalizer when Spain held a 2-1 lead. And after Croatia rallied with two late goals to take the game into extra time, he produced his best save of the game.
Croatia substitute Andrej Kramaric had a great chance to score at the start of extra time, but Simon got down to stop his shot. Then he got up and punched the air in celebration.
“We have complete confidence in him,” Spain captain Sergio Busquets said. “He was unlucky with that own-goal but Unai has a very laid-back mentality. He’s very ambitious at the same time and I think he showed that with his reaction, and with the saves he made.”
The Spanish fans never wavered in their support of Simon, either, chanting his name after his first save following the blunder. After the final whistle, Simon jumped over the advertising hoarding to salute the supporters, throwing his shirt into the crowd.
“Mistakes are part of football and, when it’s a keeper, everyone notices it more,” said Mikel Oyarzabal, who scored Spain’s fifth goal. “Our confidence in Unai is unchanged. I’ve been involved in very few groups of players who feel as unified or as confident as this one.”