After 120 minutes of action and a dramatic penalty shootout all that stood between Spain and Portugal was the width of a post. Once Bruno Alves had struck the eighth penalty flush against the cross bar to hand Spain the initiative, Cesc Fabregas stepped up and whispering to himself struck a low shot that hit Rui Patricio's right-hand post but bounced decisively into the back of the net. Spain were into the final, while for Portugal their long wait for a major trophy goes on.
Spanish players rush to celebrate with penalty-hero Cesc Fabregas.
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It was a tense finale that matched the atmosphere of what had gone before, but the excitement levels at the conclusion were rarely reached in a tight and scoreless 90 minutes.
Portugal took a novel approach to containing the phenomenal threat posed by Spain as far from merely sitting back they kept a high line and looked to constantly press and harass Spain. It proved a highly successful tactic as Spain failed to create a single clear-cut chance in regulation time.
Spain must also look at themselves as Vicente del Bosque's decision to start with Alvaro Negredo up front failed and the team struggled to come close to their normal passing rhythm. Despite coming into the match on two days less rest, it was Spain that upped their game with the onset of extra time, though, and by the end it was they who were strongly lamenting the arrival of penalties.
Having started slowly against both the Dutch and the Czech Republic, Portugal showed no such hesitation here. Crucially, unlike so many previous teams, Portugal displayed no fear despite the awe-inspiring reputation of their opponents.
The Seleccao das Quinas came out of the blocks with a clear game plan, pushing high up the pitch and closing down from the front.
Iker Casillas and the two Spanish center backs, Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique, had little time on the ball to initiate the side's passing rhythm form deep. Particularly noticeable was how many times Casillas was forced to commit what virtually amounts to a sin with this Spanish side of kicking the ball long.
Also apparent was that Portugal seemed to be targeting Alvaro Arbeloa for special pressure given his relative lack of quality on the ball compared with his teammates.
The right-back, better known for his defensive attributes, had the first real opening of the match on a rare early foray to the edge of the opposition box. The Real Madrid man arriving onto the ball on the edge of the area but unable to keep his controlled effort under the bar.
The architect of that chance as he has been for so much of Spain's good work in this competition was Andres Iniesta. And the quick-footed midfielder had his side's only other opportunity of an opening 45 minutes largely devoid of goal-mouth action.
In perhaps his only telling involvement, Negredo did well to hold up a long ball forward and lay it back for David Silva. The Manchester City schemer eventually managed to slide the ball through to Iniesta, but curling it around two Portuguese players, he couldn't keep his effort on target.
While Portugal's high pressing line was stifling Spain's ability to create going forward, it also threatened to open up chances for Paulo Bento's side on the attacking front.
Such an instance occurred as Ronaldo and Nani pressurized Jordi Alba into a mistake on the edge of his own box and the Real Madrid star hit a left-footed effort that he just dragged inches wide of the post.
With Negredo neither able to provide an effective support to the midfield or a threat getting in behind Portugal's high defensive line, the Sevilla striker was sacrificed less than 10 minutes after the restart as Cesc Fabregas came on to resume his false-nine role.
As for Portugal's striker Hugo Almeida, he was having an eventful start to the second-half, twice firing off target from difficult positions and likely incurring the wrath of an awaiting Ronaldo.
Despite also bringing on Jesus Navas and then Pedro, Spain's attacking threat only diminished into the second period. There was little more happening at the other end. Ronaldo was being largely stifled by Spain and was reduced to several wayward efforts from free-kicks.
That was until the final minute when finally a clear opening materialized and a chance fell the way of Portugal's talisman. Portugal launched their most threatening counter of the match with a three-on-two break led by Raul Meireles. With Ronaldo sprinting clear to his left, the tattooed-midfielder squared the ball but put it fractionally behind his teammate, who will none the less be disappointed with his left-footed shot that sailed well over the bar.
It wasn't until extra time that Spain finally managed to push Portugal back and find some space going forward, particularly down the flanks.
With a fine run down the left Jordi Alba created Spain's clearest opening with a cross that produced an instinctive effort from Iniesta and a superb reaction save from Rui Patricio.
It was the extra width brought about by Pedro and Navas that was starting to pay dividends for Spain throughout extra time. The latter produced another good stop from Patricio as the Sevilla winger fired a low shot across goal from the right of the box.
Spain continued to show all the initiative, but couldn't force a decisive goal before the referee signaled the oncoming of penalties.
Both Xabi Alonso and Joao Moutinho missed their teams' opening spot-kicks before Iniesta, Pepe, Pique, Nani and Sergio Ramos all converted. Ronaldo was conspicious by his absence from Portugal's takers as Bruno Alves then stepped up, bizarrely for the second time after previously having been told to go back by Nani. Perhaps that shook the imposing center back's confidence as he smashed a shot against the woodwork and left Fabregas the chance to convert and become Spain's hero.
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