Tue, Jun 24, 2008 - Page 20 News List

Spain knock out the World Cup holders

VIVA ESPANA Spain keeper Iker Casillas saved two penalties and Cesc Fabregas scored the winner as the Iberians broke a number of painful hoodoos

AFP , VIENNA

Spain striker David Villa controls the ball against Italy during their Euro 2008 quarter-final match at the Ernst Happel Stadium in Vienna on Sunday.

PHOTO: EPA

Spain beat Italy 4-2 on penalties on Sunday to reach the Euro 2008 semi-finals and in so doing break a number of painful hoodoos.

Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas saved penalties from Daniele De Rossi and Antonio Di Natale before Arsenal midfielder Cesc Fabregas buried the winning spot-kick after the match had ended 0-0 following extra-time.

Spain will play Russia in Thursday’s semi-final, having already beaten them 4-1 in their opening Group D match.

The Iberians had never before beaten Italy at either the World Cup or European Championship and on three previous occasions over the last 22 years had lost a quarter-final at a major tournament on penalties on the same date: June 22.

For Spanish coach Luis Aragones it was a case of being vindicated for not stepping down after they went out in the second round of the 2006 World Cup finals.

“I would like to congratulate, first, of all my players for their remarkable behavior and maintaining their morale during the match,” the 69-year-old said.

His Italian counterpart Roberto Donadoni was disappointed, but proud of his players.

“When one loses on penalties, it is obviously very disappointing,” said Donadoni, who knows at first hand as a player what it is like, having missed a spot-kick in the 1990 World Cup semi-final penalty shoot out loss to Argentina. “We were shattered and tired. I had to study very carefully throughout the match as to who to change and who to bring on. I think that the players can exit the tournament with their heads held high, because they gave everything. At the end of the day, that is a positive.”

The match took on a predictable pattern in the first half, with Italy defending resolutely and Spain overplaying the passes and underplaying the urgency.

Italy had the first shot on target when Massimo Ambrosini crossed for Simone Perrotta, but his header lacked power.

David Villa had a shot blocked by De Rossi, before Gianluigi Buffon got down quickly to save his free-kick.

Fernando Torres then beat two men on Spain’s left, but De Rossi, again, was there to block before David Silva sent the follow-up just wide.

Just after the restart a ricochet in the box presented Silva with an opportunity, but having created space onto his right foot, he tried to bring the ball back onto his favored left, and the chance went begging.

On 56 minutes Spain finally took a more direct route and Torres muscled Christian Panucci off the ball only to have his cross aimed at Villa cut out by Giorgio Chiellini.

The Juventus stopper was proving majestic in defense and cut out a cross from Joan Capdevila that looked destined for Torres’ head.

The game was finally starting to liven up and Italy came within a whisker of taking the lead after a scramble in Spain’s box, with goalkeeper Casillas kicking away a shot from substitute Mauro Camoranesi.

Italy were starting to have more of the game and Luca Toni headed wide from a great cross by Gianluca Zambrotta.

Ten minutes from time, Marcos Senna forced Buffon to punch clear his fierce free-kick and moments later Buffon spilled a shot from the same player, before clutching on gratefully after the ball came back off the post.

Extra-time was immediately more exciting than what had come before as Silva flashed a shot wide just after the restart.

Up the other end, Casillas tipped over a header from Di Natale and Toni flicked another header just over the top.

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