DONETSK (Reuters) - Holders Spain needed a stuttering penalty shootout win over Portugal on Wednesday to reach the Euro 2012 final, a soccer showpiece which is set to be attended by a European leader seen as a pariah by much of the continent.
Cesc Fabregas scored the decisive kick for a 4-2 shootout semi-final success after a 0-0 draw in Donetsk.
Spain will contest a third consecutive major tournament final, equaling the record set by West Germany in the early 1970s.
Substitute Fabregas told Spanish TV: "I played awfully but the team worked really hard. I had a funny feeling about the penalties and I was thinking about them this afternoon."
The second semi-final between Germany and Italy takes place in Warsaw on Thursday.
Sunday's final in Kiev will be watched, Interfax news agency reported, by Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko, whose government has been accused of human rights abuses and political repression.
His Kiev appearance would make Lukashenko the only foreign state leader to attend a match in Ukraine - with the exception of Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski, whose country is co-hosting Eastern Europe's biggest ever football event.
A number of European politicians have boycotted games in Ukraine in protest against the jailing of Yulia Tymoshenko, a key opponent of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has likened Yanukovich to Lukashenko, saying last month that "in Ukraine and Belarus people are still suffering under dictatorship and repression".
On the pitch, Spain and Portugal began brightly with the world and European champions seeming intent to attack a little more having received criticism for a dull 2-0 quarter-final win over France.
Coach Vincente del Bosque even abandoned his much-debated policy of playing without a main forward but Alvaro Negredo struggled to get into a game which eventually fizzled out.
Portugal forward Cristiano Ronaldo, the world's most expensive player, enjoyed some scampering runs but wasted free kicks in decent positions and Spain could have won it in extra time through Andres Iniesta.
They prevailed in the shootout despite Xabi Alonso having the first attempt saved. Joao Moutinho and Bruno Alves failed for Portugal with Ronaldo being kept back for a fifth penalty that never came as his trophyless nation's dream ended yet again.
VAN MARWIJK QUITS
Hopes of a Dutch triumph after a run to the 2010 World Cup final ended in bitter early disappointment after a group stage exit following three defeats, and on Wednesday coach Bert van Marwijk fell on his sword after days of contemplation.
“"I've had doubts but finally decided that I had to take this step," he said in a Dutch FA statement.
Former Portugal great Eusebio, a 1966 World Cup semi-finalist, was earlier transferred from a Polish hospital to an intensive care ward in Lisbon after the 70-year-old underwent a heart procedure while in Poland for Euro 2012.
"Eusebio wanted to go home, said he felt well, had a good trip and that is a good sign," Luz hospital's clinical director Jose Roquette told reporters.
What has generally been an engaging tournament on the field has suffered from a few dark moments off it including fan violence and racism, while France midfielder Samir Nasri caused a storm with a foul-mouthed rant at a reporter.
He apologized on Wednesday, four days after his outburst following France's defeat by Spain.
"Too many untruths circulate at the moment. May the fans, and the children in particular, know that I regret sincerely that my words may have shocked," Nasri said on his Twitter feed.
Italian daily Gazzetta dello Sport also had to make an apology over its decision to print a cartoon depicting black Italy striker Mario Balotelli as King Kong at the weekend, with criticism continuing to pour in across the web.
The cartoon was meant to positively show Balotelli as a giant of the game but it backfired.
Balotelli, the victim of racist abuse by fans during the three-week tournament, was in Warsaw with his team mates getting ready for Thursday's second semi-final with three-times winners Germany - who have never beaten Italy in a major tournament.
"I think the time has come to beat the next big opponent," said fit-again Germany midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger.
"We have already beaten Argentina, England, Netherlands and Brazil and I think Italy are next."