Spain reached their third major final in a row after a 4-2 victory on penalties sent them through to Sunday’s final in Kiev after two hours of football had failed to produce a goal in Donetsk.
Cesc Fabregas was the hero of the hour for the Spanish and it was fitting that it should be him, considering his penalty against Italy four years following another 0-0 draw after 120 minutes kickstarted La Rojas on their incredible run of success and this made it nine games in a row in which their opponents have failed to score in the knockout of a major competition.
The Barcelona midfielder insisted afterwards that he had a premonition as to what would take place, and although he was apparently in line to take the second spot kick he ended up stepping up for the fifth, but it was hard not to think he had perhaps got a bit carried away with the emotion of it all and images of Tom Hanks’ conversations with a volleyball in Castaway quickly sprung to mind after some amusing quotes in the aftermath of another epic struggle. “I said to the ball that we had to make history and it shouldn’t let me down. They [the coaching staff] told me initially to take the second one but I said no give me the fifth as I had this premonition.” He could have shared his vision with the rest of us as this was a couple of hours sitting through some really tedious stuff at times and not a game that will live very long in the memory. It was the second stalemate in a row at these Championships when there had been none prior to that and it is disappointing that a tournament promising so much as a spectacle in the group stages has become such a dour affair since reaching the last eight.
Perhaps Fabregas had some form of divine intervention on his side though as the margins between his penalty – which went past Rui Patricio after striking the inside of the left post – and the spot kick of Bruno Alves before him when the desperately unlucky Portuguese centre-back saw his effort rebound off the underside of the crossbar and out, were about as fine as they come.
Paulo Bento’s side could feel unfortunate as they were the team who had controlled the ball more in normal time as the two days less rest afforded to Spain after their quarter-final win over France looked to have taken it’s toll on the jaded reigning champions, although Portugal still failed to create any clean cut openings and their best opportunity didn’t arrive until the game had reached injury time. Raul Meireles broke into Spanish territory after a free-kick had been blocked with support on either side of him as he dribbled toward the area, he slipped it out to Cristiano Ronaldo and immortality beckoned for the Real Madrid superstar but from a relatively acute angle on the left he blazed well over the bar, as he had done with numerous free-kicks he struck throughout a frustrating night for the Portuguese talisman.
Spain regrouped and got a second wind in their sails for extra-time though but when Andres Iniesta’s shot from point blank range was somehow turned away by Patricio the writing was on the wall and the tie seemed destined for penalties. Xabi Alonso missed Spain’s first but Joao Moutinho did likewise and after every other taker had converted before Alves luck deserted him it was down to Fabregas and his talking piece of inflated leather to make history. The pre-tournament favourites are through to yet another final and continue to grind out the results that have put them within touching distance of an unprecedented treble.