Donetsk - Cesc Fabregas struck the winning spot kick as holders Spain beat
Portugal 4-2 on penalties after their Uefa Euro 2012™ semifinal ended
goalless after extra time on Wednesday.
Spain keeper Iker Casillas saved Joao Moutinho's opening penalty
then Bruno Alves hit the bar to eventually open the door for substitute
Fabregas, who scored via the post.
World champions Spain have reached a third consecutive major tournament
final, which will be played in Kiev on Sunday, equalling the record set
by West Germany in the early 1970s.
It was the second successive game to go to penalties after Italy beat
England in the last eight, with the Italians playing Germany in Warsaw
on Thursday in the second semifinal.
"I had a funny feeling about the penalties and I was thinking about them this afternoon," said Fabregas.
"They told me intially to take the second one but I said no give me the fifth as I had this premonition.
"When I stepped up to take the penalty I said to the ball that we had to make history and it shouldn't let me down.
Portugal coach Paulo Bento added: "If I had to choose a way of losing I
wouldn't choose this way... but Spain are a great team and we can leave
with our heads high."
Despite the derby nature of the game between the two Iberian neighbours
which featured seven Real Madrid club mates, it started in a largely
sporting, open spirit.
However it began to get increasingly fractious as it went on with
Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir booking nine players, most for clumsy or
late challenges with little malicious intent.
But the attacking intentions of both sides began to fade after halftime,
with the only real second-half opportunity coming from a Cristiano
Ronaldo free-kick that dipped just over the bar.
The atmosphere in the stadium also became subdued with players' shouts
easily audible because the crowd were making so little noise with just
one chance coming in the opening period of extra time when Portugal
goalkeeper Rui Patricio made a superb save from a close-range effort
from Andres Iniesta.
With so much at stake, and with both teams knowing so much about each
other, they might have been expected to take a more cautious approach
right from the start, but the opening 30 minutes gave little clue of the
flat fare that was to follow.
Portugal pressed hard when the world champions had possession and the
Spaniards came forward with real purpose in contrast to the more
circumspect approach they were criticised for against France in the
Portugal did not sit back and let Spain dominate them in those opening exchanges however.
Ronaldo's expected forays forward and some powerful running from Fabio
Coentrao took the game to Spain and their Real club mate Alvaro Arbeloa
was fully employed keeping them both at bay.
Spain threatened twice in the opening half hour with Arbeloa and Iniesta
going close while at the other end Ronaldo fired a shot just past the
Spanish coach Vicente del Bosque started with the physically powerful
Alvaro Negredo in attack rather than Cesc Fabregas but the "false No 9"
came on early in the second half with Negredo having been
well-marshalled by Pepe and Bruno Alves.
The player who showed by far the more physical side to his opponents was
Portugal striker Hugo Almeida, who had one thunderous shot at goal in
the second half and was a constant worry for the Spanish defence.
Iniesta forced Patricio into his first serious save just before halftime
in extra time when Spain finally injected some pace and took control
but they could not find a way through the Portugal defence and the match
went to penalties.
Spain's Xabi Alonso took the first spot kick which was saved by Patricio
but then Moutinho missed for Portugal and after the next five penalties
were converted Bruno Alves struck the woodwork leaving Fabregas to take
Fabregas had also scored the decisive spot kick in Spain's quarterfinal
win over Italy at Euro 2008 but this was sweeter against neighbouring
Portugal, for whom Ronaldo did not get the chance to step up to take a
penalty in the shootout.
"That life has given me another chance like this is really incredible,"
said Fabregas. "It doesn't matter who we play in the final but if I had
to pick one for the sweepstake I would pick Germany."