The World Cup holders will defend their Euro title against Germany or Italy on Sunday after a dramatic penalty shootout triumph over Portugal.
Cesc Fabregas’ winning spot-kick sealed the Spanish victory while Cristiano Ronaldo could only sit and watch, as he did not play a part in the shootout as Portugal’s best player was scheduled to take his side’s fifth kick.
The group stages matches here at the Euros was some of the best soccer you will see. Unfortunately, the knockout rounds have not been played at the same level, as teams seem more concerned with not losing than winning.
If anyone was going to knock off Spain, I thought it was Portugal, who had 48 hours more rest coming into the game than Spain.
The Portugal game plan was clear early on. They pressed Spain high up the pitch, not letting their Iberian neighbors build from the back, and forcing Casillas to kick the ball long more times than I have ever seen Spain do.
But the longer the game went on, and especially in extra time, Portugal stopped pressing and it was Spain who looked the fresher side as they were the ones with the courage to push men forward and take chances in the attacking third of the pitch.
Spain created the best chances in what increasingly became a cynical game, but Patricio made two terrific saves to deny Iniesta and Pedro.
The combined 52 fouls and 9 yellow cards ensured that this game was never going to turn into the footballing classic that we had hoped for before kickoff, but it showed that spain can in some many different ways.
The Spanish players have enjoyed so much success at club and international level over the last four years, that they never feel that they can be beaten. They have the confidence that comes from winning big game after big game, that eventually they will wear you down and score. Doesn’t also make for the prettiest of games to watch, but it is very effective.