Four years after his penalty kick started Spain’s run of success in major tournament knockout matches, Cesc Fabregas kept the streak alive by sending his team into soccer’s European Championship final.
Fabregas, whose penalty in a shootout against Italy at Euro 2008 secured a semifinal berth, again struck the winning kick last night as Spain beat Portugal 4-2 on penalties after the teams were tied 0-0 following extra time in Donetsk, Ukraine.
“I had a feeling I was going to score,” said Fabregas, who collapsed under the weight of his teammates who swamped him after his penalty kick went in off the post. “I had a feeling this was going to happen. It felt like déjà vu.”
After Fabregas’s 2008 spot-kick success, Spain went on to win that year’s European Championship, the 2010 World Cup and is now one victory away from becoming the first team to repeat as European champion. It will face Italy or record three-time winner Germany in the July 1 final in Kiev.
Barcelona midfielder Fabregas, who came on early in the 54th minute to replace striker Alvaro Negredo, had been slated to take the second penalty last night before convincing Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque to put him fifth in the order, as he had been four years ago against Italy in Vienna.
“When I stepped up to take the penalty I said to the ball that we had to make history and it shouldn’t let me down,” Fabregas told reporters at the Donbass Arena. “I talked to the ball four years ago and it didn’t let me down.”
While Spain’s change of strategy in the shootout worked, Portugal’s decision to leave captain Cristiano Ronaldo until the fifth kick floundered.
Ronaldo, for whom Real Madrid paid a record 80 million pounds ($125 million) in 2009, had six shots during the match. As he paced in preparation for his penalty kick, teammate Bruno Alves struck the crossbar to give Fabregas the chance to win it.
Ronaldo, who scored three times in Portugal’s five Euro 2012 games, said he asked coach Paulo Bento to let him go last.
“It’s frustrating to lose that way,” Ronaldo told reporters as he prepared to board the Portugal bus.
The match had gone to extra time after Portugal disrupted Spain’s passing game and limited it to one shot on target from Xavi Hernandez that was gathered by goalkeeper Rui Patricio.
Portugal made quick breaks through Ronaldo and Nani, and Ronaldo almost squeezed a shot past Iker Casillas, one of his four Real Madrid teammates playing for the opposition.
Xabi Alonso, who also plays with Ronaldo at the Bernabeu, was yellow carded in the 82nd minute for scything the Portuguese captain down as he raced toward goal.
“It’s OK, on the pitch, we’re not friends,” Ronaldo said when asked about getting rough treatment from his clubmates. “Outside, yes.”
Andres Iniesta, who helped Spain win its first global championship two years ago by scoring the latest goal in a World Cup final, may have prevented the need for penalties after taking a pass from Jordi Alba in front of goal with seven minutes of extra time remaining.
The Barcelona midfielder put his shot from four yards too close to the Portuguese goalkeeper, who diverted the ball away. Neither team was able to create another clear chance.
Although Patricio dived to his left to save the first penalty from Alonso, misses from Joao Moutinho and Alves gave Fabregas the chance to send Spain into its third straight final at a major tournament. The last team to get the better of Spain in a European Championship or World Cup knockout match was France in 2006.
“Cesc told me he wanted to take the fifth penalty because it was the decisive one,” Del Bosque said. “Whoever our opponents are, the final will be a great match. But we don’t care who our opponents are.”
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