Spain's players celebrate winning their Euro 2012 semi-final soccer match against Portugal at Donbass Arena in Donetsk June 27, 2012. (Photo : REUTERS/Yves Herman)
With its shootout victory over Portugal in the Euro Cup 2012, Spain has put itself on the verge of making history.
Spain now awaits the winner of the Germany-Italy match to determine which opponent will stand in their way of being the first ever national side to win three straight major tournaments.
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Spain defeated Germany 1-0 in the Euro Cup 2008 and then defeated the Netherlands 1-0 in the 2010 World Cup.
The victory against their Iberian rivals was likely the most anticipated match in the tournament. The last time these teams faced off in a tournament match, Spain won 1-0 at the 2010 World Cup en route to winning the championship. In a friendly a few months later, Portugal destroyed Spain 4-0. Coming into the match, Portugal was clearly playing a better brand of soccer than Spain was and many believed Portugal would pull through. The Portuguese had started off poorly in their opening two matches, but spurred by an ever dynamic Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal looked dominant in the last two games against the Dutch and the Czechs.
Portugal was expected to pressure Spain's passing game into mistakes. As the match progressed for 90 minutes, that is exactly what they did. Spain's passing looked sloppy throughout and barely generated many key opportunities. Spanish Coach Vicente del Bosque inserted surprise starter Alvaro Negredo to provide trouble for the Portuguese defense with his size. However, Negredo was extremely disappointing and found himself back on the bench shortly after the start of the second half.
In the second half, the additions of Cesc Fabregas (in for Negredo) and Jesus Navas (in for a struggling David Silva) enlivened the Spanish offense which started to find its flow. However, Portugal continued having the best opportunities of regulation. Ronaldo had a flurry of free kicks that went over the net and in the final minute got a perfect pass from Meireles and ran up the left wing. The ensuing shot sailed over the net.
Spain took over in the extra time and generated a number of brilliant opportunities. The best came when Andres Iniesta snuck into the box, received a pass and blasted a one timer on goal, just feet away from the line. However, Portuguese netminder Rui Patricio made possibly the most incredible save of the match to keep the Portuguese alive.
The penalties started off with duds for both teams. Xabi Alonso, who had scored on a penalty shot against France, was stopped by Patricio before Spanish goalie Iker Casillas answered with a save on Joao Moutinho. Spain's Iniesta, Gerard Pique, and Sergio Ramos then exchanged goals with Nani and Pepe before Bruno Alves hit the crossbar. The decision turned to Fabregas who scored to give Spain the victory. Ronaldo was expected to follow Fabregas and saw no shots in the penalty shootout.
Spain and Portugal only produced seven shots on goal with 21 attempts total in what was a tense chess match of a game. Spain possessed the ball for 57 percent of the time, a huge drop from their average 65 percent ball possession. The match was also dirty affair and featured five Portuguese yellow cards and four Spanish yellows.
With the win, Spain has now pitched nine straight shutouts in knockout rounds of major tournaments. This is also the second 0-0 match in that span, the last being a penalty shootout win over Italy in the quarterfinals of the 2008 Euro Cup.
Spain now awaits the German-Italian tilt to determine their next foe. Spain has defeated Germany twice in the last two competitive meetings; one in the 2008 Euro Cup Final and one in the 2010 World Cup Semi-Final. They have never defeated Italy in regulation of competitive play and tied them 1-1 in the group stage of the 2012 Euro Cup.