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Spain struggles but beats Portugal in shootout to reach European Championship final

Published Jun. 28, 2012

DONETSK, Ukraine — Still not pretty to watch but still effective.

Spain again failed to dazzle at the European Championship yet advanced to its third straight major championship final, beating Portugal 4-2 in a penalty shootout after a scoreless 120 minutes Wednesday.

"We're playing better on defense than what the characteristics of our players would suggest," Spain coach Vicente del Bosque said. "That's what earns victories."

After earning plaudits for its offensive flair in winning titles at Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup, Spain is struggling to create chances. It managed one quality shot in regulation Wednesday.

It didn't matter because Spain came through when it mattered. Striker Cesc Fabregas, a second-half sub, made the deciding penalty moments after Bruno Alves hit the crossbar for Portugal.

"I had this intuition that we could advance if we went to penalties," said Fabregas, whose winner hit the left post and ricocheted into the right side of the goal. "Being in another final is a miracle."

Spain plays Sunday against the winner of today's game between Germany and Italy.

Cristiano Ronaldo, among the best players in the world, had several chances for Portugal. But he sent three shots well over the crossbar. After his second, Spain fans taunted with him with chants of "Messi! Messi! Messi!" referring to Lionel Messi, who plays for club rival Barcelona.

The wing's best chance came in the 90th minute. Raul Meireles' pass was just behind Ronaldo, and with momentum lost, he sent his shot high and wide. Ronaldo also sent a free kick into the wall.

"Everyone helped to control Ronaldo," Del Bosque said.

Portugal's Rui Patricio and Spain's Iker Casillas each made saves in the shootout's first round. Then it was all scoring until Alves' miss. "We really were lucky," Casillas said. "Everything is about luck sometimes."

Ronaldo did not take a penalty in the shootout. He was set to take the fifth, but it did not get that far.

"The coach … said to me, 'You want a kick?' And I said, 'Yes, in the fifth,' " Ronaldo of coach Paulo Bento. "I think we played really well. But to lose on penalties is always unfair, and it's always unlucky."

"I don't regret anything" Bento said of the order of penalty takers.