It was after midnight in the Ukraine when Cesc Fabregas’ penalty kick caromed off the post and into the back of the net, sending Spain to the Euro 2012 final and sending Portugal packing for home.
Spain had been dominant throughout play, orchestrating a string of excellent runs on the Portuguese goal despite the lack of scoring. Only its extraordinary defensive effort kept Portugal from giving up multiple goals during regulation.
When the 90 minutes of regular play expired, the scoreboard still read 0-0, and even after 30 additional minutes of overtime, neither team was able to put the ball past the other side’s keeper. Still, there was no question that Spain was playing a better match. They maintained possession for a large majority of play, and Spain’s defense was also able to keep feted Portuguese striker Cristiano Ronaldo from ever being a major factor.
Ronaldo, in fact, never even got a chance to make an impact during the deciding five-man penalty shootout.
With the score in free kicks tied 2-2 after three rounds, Spain’s Sergio Ramos scored easily. Needing a goal, the Portuguese side sent up not Ronaldo, but fullback Bruno Alves, ostensibly saving Ronaldo for last. But after Alves clanked one off the top crossbar, Fabregas buried his shot, clinching the game for Spain before Ronaldo had ever had the opportunity to step up to the line.
Though Portugal is clearly not pleased by this loss, members of the team ought to hold their heads high: This was the first time the Spanish national squad has been held scoreless in the past 18 games.
Spain will learn tomorrow whether they will face Italy or Germany in the final, as they attempt to win back-to-back European titles.