Euro 2008: Spain into semis after beating Italy on pens

Arsenal midfielder Cesc Fabregas scores Spain's final spot-kick at the end of a goalless draw.

fabregas 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
fabregas 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Spain took a big step toward shedding its underachiever reputation Sunday, finally surviving the quarterfinals and defeating Italy in a major tournament. It also showed that it has the nerves to win from the penalty spot after having previously lost three shootouts in big-tournament quarterfinals. "We're always talking about not being able to pass the quarterfinals. But now we're in the semifinals," Spain coach Luis Aragones said. "I'm happy for my country and for my players ... and ultimately for myself because it's my profession and winning is beautiful." Spain lost penalty shootouts to Belgium at the 1986 World Cup, to England at Euro 1996 and to South Korea at the 2002 World Cup - all in the quarterfinals. Before Sunday, the "Seleccion" had never gotten past that stage of a major tournament since 1984, when it made it to the European Championship final but lost to France. The victory in Vienna also settled a score with World Cup champion Italy, a team it had not been able to beat in a competitive match outside the Olympics. Arsenal midfielder Cesc Fabregas said he was calm as he walked up to hit Spain's final penalty. "We practiced penalties yesterday (Saturday) and it went very well. I got to hit the decisive one, but it could have been anyone else," he said. Although Aragones said his team deserved the win, he was not impressed by Spain's performance in a tight match in which neither team was able to score before the shootout. "We didn't play great football and Italy didn't either. Italy couldn't score on us and we had about three good chances," Aragones said. Winger David Silva had two good shots in the first half and another in extra time, but it was Marcos Senna who came the closest for Spain with a long-range rocket in the 81st minute that Gianluigi Buffon struggled to save with the help of the post. "The rhythm of the game was slow," Aragones said. "If we had moved the ball with more speed maybe we would have had more chances." Spain, now undefeated in 20 games, expects a tough rematch with Russia in the semifinals after the Spaniards beat Guus Hiddink's squad 4-1 in their Group D opener. "This time it's going to be more difficult than the first time," Aragones said. "But this group is convinced of reaching the final." Sunday's quarterfinal match in Vienna was the first competitive match between Italy and Spain since the 1994 World Cup, when Roberto Baggio's late goal gave Italy a 2-1 win and a spot in the semifinals. The Spaniards best remember that match for how Italy defender Mauro Tassotti broke forward Luis Enrique's nose in injury time.