Spain kept its record unbeaten run intact as it overcame Italy 7-6 in a penalty shootout to reach the Confederations Cup soccer final against host nation Brazil.
Jesus Navas scored with the 14th penalty kick to send top-ranked Spain into the title match after the teams failed to score in 90 minutes of regulation play and half an hour of extra time last night at the Estadio Castelao in Fortaleza.
The final of the two-week Confederations Cup, an eight-nation warmup for next year’s World Cup, will be played June 30 at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro. Brazil is chasing a third straight title and fourth in seven editions since governing body FIFA first staged the event in 1997.
“Fortune went our way in the shootout,” Spain coach Vicente del Bosque told reporters. “Despite all the things they’ve won, our players feel like kids. They’re playing Brazil at the Maracana and that’s taken them back to boyhood days.”
Last night’s win extended the record undefeated run for world and European champion Spain to 29 competitive games, two more than the mark set by France in 1999.
While Spain had 62 percent of first-half possession, Italy, the 2006 world champion and runner-up at last year’s European Championship, outshot its opponent by nine to two.
Christian Maggio had three chances with headers and Claudio Marchisio also headed wide. Fernando Torres had Spain’s best opportunity before the break as he pulled his shot wide of the post after 37 minutes.
Italy dominated the first 30 minutes of the second half without managing to breach the defense of Spain, which failed to score in the 83rd minute when Gerard Pique blasted the ball over the bar from substitute Juan Mata’s low cross.
Emanuele Giaccherini had the first chance in extra time, striking a post with his left-foot shot in the 94th minute.
Two minutes after referee Howard Webb waved away claims for a penalty kick from Spanish players, Pique failed to connect with a header when unmarked before Italian defender Daniele de Rossi dived to block Sergio Ramos’s follow-up attempt. In the 98th minute, Andres Iniesta played Jordi Alba in behind the Italian defense and his first-time volley rose just over.
With five minutes left in extra time, Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon turned Xavi Hernandez’s left-foot strike from about 25 yards (22 meters) onto a post and Javier Martinez dragged his shot from the rebound across the goal and wide. Two minutes later, Buffon dived low to his right to turn Navas’s shot out for a corner kick.
“It was an excellent performance from both teams, who proved they are right at the top of the European game,” Del Bosque said. “We couldn’t control the game properly and we looked very open.”
In the shootout, neither goalkeeper got close to making a save as most penalty kicks found the corner of the net. Antonio Candreva was a notable exception, beginning the shootout with a delicate chip down the center of the goal and over diving Spanish goalkeeper Iker Casillas.
After 12 successful penalty kicks, defender Leonardo Bonucci blasted his effort over the bar. Navas then slid the ball into the lower left corner to seal the win for Spain.
“This match has been a great test for us, no doubt about that, and we passed it despite the result,” Italy coach Cesare Prandelli told reporters. “We proved that we have the quality to battle it out with the best.”
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