Euro 2008 – Spot on Spain knock out Italy

Eurosport

Spain booked their place in the semi-final of Euro 2008 as Iker Casillas emerged as the hero in a dramatic penalty shootout win over Italy.

FOOTBALL 2008 Euro 2008 Spain Spain-Italy Casillas - 0

Spot kicks were needed after 120 minutes of normal play in a dour encounter that failed to produce a goal at the Ernst Happel Stadium in Vienna.

Real Madrid keeper Casillas saved twice – from Daniele De Rossi and Antonio Di Natale – to give substitute Cesc Fabregas the chance to put Spain 4-2 up and into next week’s last-four clash with Russia. And the young Arsenal midfielder – used as a second-half substitute again – made no mistake with his kick.

It was an historic night for Spain, who had not beaten their opponents in a major competition since the 1920 Olympics and had, bizarrely, lost three previous penalty shootouts on the particular date of June 22 – at the 1986 World Cup, Euro 96 and the World Cup in 2002.

Luis Aragones’s side laid those superstitions to rest, and at the same time went a long way to disproving the accusation that they are chokers in big games at big tournaments.

It was not pretty and the fluency of the football they produced in their Euro 2008 opener against Russia was sorely missing, but Italy should shoulder most of the blame for making this a turgid affair.

With playmaker Andrea Pirlo out suspended along with Gennaro Gattuso, Italy coach Roberto Donadoni fielded four central midfielders in his starting line-up, depriving the Azzurri of any kind of width and the game of any excitement.

And that meant service for Luca Toni, effectively playing up front on his own, was limited at best. Decent crosses were few and far between, and the Spain back line – noticeably giving away a few inches to Toni – were rarely forced to contend with dangerous balls into the box.

And even when the Spanish defence were stretched, Italy could not apply a finishing touch – Simone Perrotta headed straight at Iker Casillas before Toni’s goalbound header was blocked rather fortuitously by Carlos Marchena later in the first half.

With Italy sitting back and relying on Toni’s ability as a target man to forge any opportunities, Spain were left to make most of the running early on.

That said, even an intelligent and skilful midfield consisting of Andres Iniesta, Xavi, David Silva and Marcos Senna found it difficult to find a way through an organised Italian defence and chances were few and far between.

David Villa brought Gianluigi Buffon into action with a well-struck free kick on 25 minutes before the Italy keeper had to be alert to keep out a low Silva drive seven minutes later.

The Valencia man then let fly with a left-footed effort which flashed just wide of the upright, but other than a penalty claim following a Fabio Grosso challenge on Silva just before the half-time whistle, that was all Spain could muster.

With no changes made at the break, it came as no surprise that the second-half panned out in much the same vein and failed to produce a goal.

Despite their negative manner, it was Italy who came closest to breaking the deadlock during the second period, when Casillas denied substitute Mauro Camoranesi with his legs following a Keystone Cops-style goalmouth scramble.

It was by far Italy’s best chance of the game, but Spain forged one of their own soon after, albeit with a little help from Buffon, who allowed Marcos Senna’s long range strike slip through his fingers with just nine minutes of normal time remaining. Only the base of the upright sparred his blushes.

Into extra-time and the game finally began to open up a little. Silva again fired wide before Di Natale brought a save from Casillas with a header in the 95th minute.

Substitute Santi Cazorla should perhaps have done better with virtually the last kick of open play, but the advent of penalty kicks was almost as inevitable as an Italy win before they commenced.

Fortunately for Spain, Casillas proved that particular school of thought very much wrong.

Mike Hytner / Eurosport

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