Spain beat Italy on penalties, enter semis

Vienna, June 22:

Cesc Fabregas scored the deciding penalty to give Spain a 4-2 shootout win over Italy and a spot in the European Championship semi-finals after a 0-0 draw.

Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas saved penalties from Daniele De Rossi and Antonio Di Natale. David Villa, Santi Cazorla, Marcos Senna also scored for Spain, while Fabio Grosso, Mauro Camoranesi scored for Italy. Spain will face Russia in the semifinals on Thursday.

Earlier, Spain created more openings in a match that would decide which team faces Russia in Thursday’s semi-finals, but neither team performed at anything like its peak. Italy went closest in the 61st when substitute Mauro Camoranesi had a goalbound shot blocked by the legs of goalkeeper Iker Casillas.

With key midfielders Andrea Pirlo and Gennaro Gattuso suspended, World Cup champions Italy seemed mostly content to try and stifle a Spain team that had shown some of the best attacking football in the group stages. Spain’s best opportunity came in the 81st when goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon spilled a fierce long-range shot by Marcos Senna. The ball squirmed out of his hands and rolled back to hit the post before landing softly back in his arms.

The first half had been so poor that both sets of fans jeered the teams off the field for the interval, with the most noise the heavily outnumbered Italians made coming when Antonio Cassano took a 40th-minute corner right in front of them. Spain at least attempted some enterprising football and had 10 shots to Italy’s two, but the Italians’ defense was so secure that only a blocked effort by David Silva came from inside the area.

The move that led to that chance was arguably the brightest spot in a stultifying first half. David Villa set up Silva with a back-heeled return pass so audacious that even retired France great Zinedine Zidane, who was watching from the stands, nodded in approval.

Spain tried to quicken things up, refusing to dither over goal kicks and throws, but the game continued to succumb to Italy’s leaden pace. Silva twice had 25-yard shots saved by Buffon low to his left and the Spanish, who had flourished in the first round with eight goals, seemed to get frustrated. Silva was lucky not to get a yellow card in the 42nd when he threw himself over the outstretched leg of Fabio Grosso on the edge of the area. Silva writhed about on the grass until play was halted, at which point referee Herbert Fandel marched half the length of the field to order him to his feet.

The pace improved at the start of the second half even if the quality didn’t. Fernando Torres and Villa worked the ball to Andres Iniesta on the left of Italy’s area only for the midfielder to mis-control and let it hit his hand.

And Silva got a chance

in the 49th when a clearance under pressure by Christian Panucci hit Daniele De Rossi and rebounded to Silva in the area. Silva twisted to

get his shot away, but Giorgio Chiellini blocked with a sliding challenge. But at least there seemed to be more attacking intent from Italy, which almost took the lead in the 61st after Luca Toni hooked the ball away from Casillas just as he was about to grab it. Camoranesi, who been on the field just three minutes, shot from

in front of goal only for the recovering Casillas to block with his legs.