Two Cesc Fabregas penalties, four years apart, tell the story of Spain’s recent history in the European Championship.
In 2008, in Vienna, it was Fabregas’ spot-kick in a 4-2 penalty shoot-out win over world champions Italy that convinced Spain they were finally capable of beating Europe’s leading teams. One week later, they beat Germany to claim their first major honour in 44 years and in just over two years, they were world champions.
“I think we changed our mentality with that game,” said Gerard Pique earlier this month.
“Before then, when Spain got to the quarter-finals, we played not to lose. Since then, we play to win.”
That man again
On Wednesday, in Donetsk, it fell to Fabregas once again to apply the coup de grace in a penalty shoot-out, although this time it was Portugal, in the semi-finals. The Barcelona midfielder’s unerring spot-kick, which hit the base of the left-hand post before cannoning into the net, gave Spain another 4-2 shoot-out success, but the context was very different this time.
Where Spain were an emerging force at Euro 2008, they now appear slightly jaded.
They have gone nine knockout matches at major tournaments without conceding a goal, but their performances have become more laboured.
Spain largely controlled the match against Portugal but were unable to procure genuine sights of goal until extra time. Apart from a pair of stops to thwart Andres Iniesta and Jesus Navas either side of half-time in the extra period, Portugal goalkeeper Rui Patricio did not have a save of note to make.
“It was tough and it wasn’t our best match, because they made it difficult for us,” admitted Spain centre-back Sergio Ramos.