Spain ousts Italy in Euro penalty shootout
After 120 minutes of goal-less action, Cesc Fabregas scored the decisive goal to lead Spain to a 4-2 penalty shootout over world champion Italy Sunday in their Euro 2008 quarter-final match in Vienna.
Iker Casillas made a pair of saves and David Villa, Santi Cazorla and Marcos Senna also scored for Spain, who meets Russia in the semifinals on June 26 in Vienna.
Italy, who defeated France in the 2006 World Cup final in a penalty shootout, got goals from Fabio Grosso and Mauro Camoranesi.
Casillas saved penalties from Daniele De Rossi and Antonio Di Natale.
"I was sure he was going to stop the penalties," Spain coach Luis Aragones said. "I was sure."
With the victory, Spain remains on course to claim its first major international title since winning the 1964 European Championship on home soil.
Sunday's result allowed the Spaniards to exorcise some demons, as a loss would have marked the fourth time Spain would have been eliminated from a major tournament via a quarter-final penalty shoot-out on June 22. The Spaniards exited the 1986 and 2002 World Cups, and Euro '96 under similar circumstances.
The win was also Spain's first over Italy in a competitive match since the 1920 Antwerp Olympics.
Spain was a deserved winner, never giving up or losing hope, even when there appeared little chance of them breaching the stalwart Italian defence.
"We deserved to win on penalty kicks," Aragones said. "We didn't play great football, but neither did Italy."
Spain reverted to the same starting lineup that beat Russia and Sweden in the first round, while Italy brought in midfielder Alberto Aquilani and Massimo Ambrosini for the suspended pair Gennaro Gattuso and Andrea Pirlo.
"We're very bitter, but we still have a lot of pride," Gattuso said. "Losing on penalties happens. We won the World Cup on penalties."
Both Spanish royalty (King Juan Carlos and his wife Queen Sofia) and soccer royalty (former FIFA world player of the year Zinedine Zidane) were in attendance, but the dignitaries were treated to a dour spectacle in the first half.
Without Pirlo, its chief playmaker, and Gattuso, its midfield enforcer, Italy flooded the centre of midfield, clogging it up with bodies to try to deny Spain space to operate. The tactic worked.
The Spaniards dominated possession and played with attacking spirit in the opening 45 minutes, but couldn't find their way past the Italians, who employed a conservative approach and easily soaked up the Spanish pressure.
It wasn't until the 24-minute mark that Spain registered a shot on net, David Villa's low, driving shot from 25 yards out was stopped comfortably by Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.
The Italian defence continued to thwart of Fernando Torres and Villa, who combined for five goals in the first round, limiting the Spanish attacking duo to shots from well outside the penalty area.
Italy tried in vain to hit back on the counter-attack, but they never really threatened the Spanish goal.
The second half picked up where the first left off with Spain trying to pry open the stubborn Italian defence.
In the 60th minute, a botched defensive clearance led to a chance for Italy in a goal-mouth scramble. Casillas came to the rescue, though, making a great goal-line clearance with his left foot on a shot from Camoranesi.
The Spaniards poured on the pressure after that escape, and almost broke the deadlock with 10 minutes left in regulation. Marcos Senna hit a pile driver of a shot that slipped through the hands of Buffon, but the ball hit the post before ending up in the hands of the goalkeeper.
After David Silva's ferocious shot breezed wide of the post early in the first overtime period, the Italians swarmed the Spanish net with a pair and carved out a pair of scoring chances, the more dangerous of the two coming when Di Natale saw his header tipped over the crossbar by Casillas.
The second extra-time period ended much like the first one did, with Spain pressing and Italy sitting back in defence and no goal forthcoming until the shootout.
"I told the guys to keep their heads up. They did all they could," Italian coach Roberto Donadoni said. "This loss will help them grow more. Tomorrow we'll start anew. We're looking forward."
Italy — Giorgio Chiellini: The Juventus star was a bulwark in the centre of the Italian defence.
Spain — Iker Casillas: The Spanish goalkeeper made two big saves in the shootout.
With files from Associated Press