Spain reached the final of Euro 2012 on Wednesday night, beating Portugal 4-2 on penalties after the two sides had failed to produce a single goal in 120 minutes of football.
|Spanish goalkeeper Iker Casillas (C) saves a penalty by Portuguese midfielder Joao Moutinho during the Euro 2012 football championships semi-final match Portugal vs. Spain on June 27, 2012 at the Donbass Arena in Donetsk (credit: DAMIEN MEYER/AFP/GettyImages)|
After a fairly slow start by their standards, Spain started to pass the ball around well in the first half, but there was more urgency about their play than in earlier games in the tournament.
Portugal had seen more of the ball in the opening few minutes of the game, but with Cristiano Ronaldo not yet involved, by the 15 minute mark, it was the reigning champions who were on top, with Alvaro Arbeloa and Andres Iniesta having shots from distance.
As soon as Ronaldo started to see more of the ball, Portugal improved, and although Paulo Bento's side were not creating huge numbers of chances in front of goal, after 25 minutes, Spain were on the back foot, with Alvaro Negredo, preferred up front to Fernando Torres, largely anonymous.
Iniesta had another sight on goal but curled his shot over the bar, then just moments later, a Portugal break ended in Ronaldo hitting the side netting.
The first half ended goalless, and although Spain enjoyed 60 per cent possession, Portugal were arguably the more impressive side, working hard to close down the Spanish midfield, and doing their best to win the ball back quickly.
Portugal continued their excellent work in the early stages of the second half, pressing high up the pitch and putting Spain under pressure.
Vicente del Bosque only needed seven minutes of the second half to realise he needed to make a change, bringing on Cesc Fabregas for Negredo, who had barely seen the ball during his 52 minutes on the pitch.
Less than ten minutes later, with Spain still failing to take control of the game, Del Bosque hauled off David Silva, who had also disappointed, bringing on Jesus Navas.
Slowly, the changes started to make a difference, and Spain's midfield were becoming more creative and looking more threatening, although as the game reached the 70 minute mark, the defending champions had registered just one shot on target.
Ronaldo won a free-kick for Portugal thirty yards from goal, but fired his set-piece narrowly over the bar, and as the game entered the final 15 minutes, it looked increasingly likely that either an individual moment of genius, or an individual error, would settle the game in 90 minutes.
Portugal brought Nelson Oliveira on for Almeida for the final ten minutes as they looked to find a late winner. Ronaldo had another free-kick which he sent over the crossbar.
Spain made their final change with five minutes remaining, with Pedro coming on for Xavi, and Del Bosque deciding to leave Fernando Llorente and Fernando Torres on the bench.
Portugal had a chance to win it in the final minute, with four white shirts breaking forward. But the move ended with Ronaldo once again missing the target, as 90 minutes ended goalless - and with just one shot on target all game.
While the first half was intriguing, the second was disappointing, and there was very little urgency from either side in the early stages of extra-time. Portugal were tiring quickly, while Spain continued to struggle to create clear chances.
Spain could have finally broken the deadlock just before half-time in extra-time, with Iniesta going close only for Rui Patricio to superbly tip his shot away.
In the second period of extra-time, it was Del Bosque's men who looked more likely to score. Navas, who had looked sharp since being introduced, went close, only for Patricio to save well again.
But although Spain finished strongly, they were unable to find the back of the net, with the game going to penalties after 120 minutes of football ended goalless.
The shoot-out saw Xabi Alonso step up to take Spain's first penalty, only for his shot to be saved by Patricio. But Portugal's first spot-kick was also saved, with Iker Casillas denying Moutinho.
Iniesta then stepped up and found the back of the net to put Spain ahead, before Pepe levelled things.
Gerard Pique once again put the Spaniards ahead, then Manchester United winger Nani again levelled the score in the shoot-out.
Sergio Ramos then stepped forward and "did a Pirlo", dinking his spot-kick and beating Patricio. Bruno Alves stepped up next for Portugal, looking less than comfortable, and blasted his spot-kick against the crossbar.
Fabregas then stepped up and converted his spot-kick, sending Spain through to Sunday's final, where they will play either Germany or Italy.