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Spain win shootout to reach semi-finals

Spain beat Italy 4-2 in a penalty shootout after a highly tactical clash to set them against Russia in the semis. Fabregas slotted home the decisive penalty after goalkeeper Casillas saved two of Italy's spot kicks.Special: Euro 2008

sports Updated: Jul 01, 2008 00:59 IST
Simon Baskett

Spain beat Italy 4-2 in a penalty shootout after a highly tactical Euro 2008 clash on Sunday to set them up with a semi-final against Russia.

Cesc Fabregas coolly slotted home the decisive penalty after goalkeeper Iker Casillas had saved two of Italy's spot kicks.

The match had ended goalless after extra time following 120 minutes in which both defences were too well-organised to break down despite the determine efforts of both strike forces.

It is the first time Spain have reached the semi-finals of a major tournament since they got to the final of the European championships in 1984.

They are the only one of the group winners to make it to the final four after Portugal, Croatia and Netherlands were knocked out of the tournament.

The match at the Ernst Happel stadium was an eagerly anticipated affair, but it developed into a cagey encounter with Spain frustrated by an Italy side who have rediscovered their defensive solidity after a shaky start to the tournament.

As expected Spain quickly got control of the ball and midfielders Xavi and Andres Iniesta set about probing for gaps in the Italian back four, but they got little change out of centre backs Giorgio Chiellini and Christian Panucci.

David Silva managed to break through but his shot deflected off a defender and ballooned into the hands of goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, while Fernando Torres lashed over the bar after being put clear by David Villa.

The first time Buffon was really tested came when Villa fired in a low free kick after 25 minutes, while Silva then drove two shots past the post late on in the half.

SET PIECES

The Italian threat was largely confined to set pieces with Daniele De Rossi and Antonio Cassano searching out Luca Toni with lofted crosses into the area but the big striker never managed to get a clean header.

Italy were missing defensive midfielder Gennaro Gattuso through suspension but the inexperienced Alberto Aquilani did a fine job in helping shackle Spain's creative players.

Spain continued to have the better of the game after the break but although they managed to get past the Italian fullbacks they were unable to threaten the goal.

Coach Luis Aragones threw Cesc Fabregas and Santi Cazorla into the mix just before the hour to try and shake things up in the midfield.

But it was Italy substitute Mauro Camoranesi who almost gave Italy the lead moments later, his fierce close-range shot brilliantly saved by Iker Casillas with his feet after a goalmouth scramble.

Midfielder Marcos Senna almost snatched it for Spain nine minutes from time when Buffon fumbled his powerful long-range drive although the keeper was able to gather the ball after it rolled on to the post.

But neither team could break the deadlock and it became the third quarter-final to go to extra time.

The lively Silva went close again with another crisp drive and Italy striker Antonio Di Natale forced a fine finger-tip save from Casillas soon after but with both sides refusing to take too many risks it took spot kicks to separate them.

(Reporting by Simon Baskett, editing by Ken Ferris)