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Spain in Euro Cup Semifanal Beat Italy

Spain Makes Euro Soccer Semifinal With Win Over Italy

Hero: Spanish goalkeeper Iker Casillas makes one of his two crucial penalty saves.

Iker Casillas saved two penalties to help Spain beat Italy in a major tournament for the first time in 88 years and propel his country into the semifinals of soccer's European Championship for the first time since 1984.

Spain won the shootout 4-2 against the world champion after neither team could score in 120 minutes of play at Vienna's Ernst Happel stadium last night.

``This time we were lucky against Italy,'' Spain coach Luis Aragones told reporters. ``We deserved to win on penalty kicks but we didn't play great football and neither did Italy.''

The victory means Spain will play Russia for the second time in the tournament for a place in the June 29 final. Aragones's players thrashed Guus Hiddink's team 4-1 in the opening match of the tournament. Germany and Turkey meet in the other semifinal a day earlier, on June 25.

Spain is now two wins from adding to its 1964 European Championship success, its sole international title. The last time the country reached the final four at a major tournament was at Euro 84.

Cesc Fabregas got the winning penalty after David Villa, Santi Cazorla and Marcos Senna scored their spot kicks. Casillas saved from Daniele De Rossi and Antonio Di Natale, while Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon kept out Daniel Guiza's effort.

``It was a very difficult game; it took a lot out of us because it was so hot,'' Casillas said. ``To go out would have been harsh.''


It's the first time in four attempts the Spaniards have won a quarterfinal shootout on June 22 at a major tournament. Spain exited the World Cup in 1986 and 2002 on penalties on that date and suffered the same fate at Euro 96.

``The group is convinced it's going to get to the final,'' Aragones said. ``Then we'll see what will happen.''

While Spain won all three first-phase games, Italy lost its opener to the Netherlands 3-0, drew with Romania and had to beat France in its final group match and rely on the Netherlands winning against Romania to advance.

Few chances were created in the first half as four-time world champion Italy sought to stifle Spain by packing its defense.

The first clear opportunity for Spain -- which had 60 percent of possession in the opening 45 minutes -- didn't come until more than half an hour had been played, when Valencia's David Silva beat Fabio Grosso and unleashed a 20-meter (66-foot) shot that fizzed past Buffon's far post.

The Italians continued to frustrate Spanish strikers Fernando Torres and Villa after the interval and Aragones replaced Torres with Guiza with six minutes remaining in a futile bid to find a goal.

Italy coach Roberto Donadoni said he ``couldn't care less'' when a reporter said the team's performance wasn't worthy of a world champion.

``I'm proud of what they've done,'' Donadoni said. ``It's up to you to assess our performance.''


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