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Spain reach Euro 2012 final after shootout

By Stuart Roach, CNN
updated 8:16 AM EDT, Thu June 28, 2012
Spain's Cesc Fabregas scores the decisive penalty past Portugal's Rui Patricio in Donetsk
Spain's Cesc Fabregas scores the decisive penalty past Portugal's Rui Patricio in Donetsk
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Spain become only second team to reach three successive major tournament finals
  • Cesc Fabregas scores winning spot-kick as Spain beat Portugal 4-2 on penalties
  • Portugal striker Cristiano Ronaldo not involved in crucial shootout
  • Spain face Germany or Italy in Sunday's Euro 2012 final

(CNN) -- Spain became only the second team to reach three successive major tournament finals after winning a nail-biting penalty shootout against Portugal following a tense goalless draw in Donetsk on Wednesday.

The 2010 World Cup and 2008 European champions followed West Germany into the history books as Cesc Fabregas fired the decisive penalty in off a post after Bruno Alves had hit the bar for Portugal.

Bizarrely, Portugal's key man Cristiano Ronaldo never even got to take a spot kick as he was saved for Portugal's final penalty, a tactic that backfired horribly.

In a game of few chances, Portugal worked hard to edge much of it but their pressing tactics started to backfire in extra-time as tiredness increasingly became a factor.

Spain's patience looked to have paid off as they dominated extra-time against an increasingly desperate Portuguese side, but Paulo Bento's side performed heroics to hold on and force a shootout.

Penalties bring pleasure for Spain
Spain's soccer team celebrates with the Euro 2012 trophy on a double-decker bus during the victory parade in Madrid on Monday. Spain defeated Italy 4-0 in the final match on Sunday. Euro 2012, bringing together 16 of Europe's best national soccer teams, began June 8 in Poland and Ukraine. Look back at the action and atmosphere. Spain's soccer team celebrates with the Euro 2012 trophy on a double-decker bus during the victory parade in Madrid on Monday. Spain defeated Italy 4-0 in the final match on Sunday. Euro 2012, bringing together 16 of Europe's best national soccer teams, began June 8 in Poland and Ukraine. Look back at the action and atmosphere.
Euro 2012: The best photos
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Goalkeeper Rui Patricio was the central figure, saving spectacularly from Andres Inesta and Jesus Navas in extra time, then brilliantly pushing away Xabi Alonso's penalty as the shootout got under way.

But Iker Casillas matched that stop by saving Joao Moutinho's spot-kick and Iniesta, Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos, with a nerveless chip, all scored in a dramatic shootout.

There was little sign of the drama to come early on as Portugal's tactics stifled the champions.

Spain came into this Iberian clash as warm favorites, but it was Portugal who looked sharper in the first half.

Bento's side hassled and harried from the start and generally looked the hungrier team but Spain, to their credit, remained patient and chances inevitably came their way, fullback Alvaro Arbeloa sidefooting over from the edge of the penalty area.

With so much creative talent on the pitch it was remarkable that so few chances were created, but perhaps inevitably it was Ronaldo who had the bulk of them.

The Real Madrid striker dipped a trademark free-kick narrowly over the bar as Portugal inched closer and seven minutes from time his effort from similar range was handled in the wall by Arbeloa, only for Ronaldo to fire over again from 10 yards closer in.

When Spain were given the chance to threaten from a set-piece in injury-time, it looked as though the holders might have the final word. Instead, it was Portugal who threatened as Alonso's free-kick was cleared and played out by Nani to give Raul Meireles the chance to lead a counterattack.

His final pass to Ronaldo was slack, though, and Ronaldo's golden chance of sealing a dramatic win instead saw him lash his shot into the stands.

Incredibly, it was Ronaldo's 70th shot from outside the penalty area in major tournaments -- and none of them have resulted in a goal.

It was a chance to kill off the previously lackluster Spanish and the timing would have been perfect. Instead, as extra-time progressed, Portugal's earlier pressing caught up with them as Spain's patience started to pay dividends.

Jordi Alba pushed further forward and it was his excellent wing play that led to Iniesta being presented with a sidefoot chance from six yards out. Somehow, though, Patricio threw out an arm and diverted the goalbound effort around his post.

It was a heroic piece of goalkeeping and Patricio also brilliantly kept out Navas in extra time, then Alonso from the spot before Portugal's resistance finally cracked -- with Ronaldo a frustrated spectator.

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