Spain stood tall defensively to earn a shutout against Portugal in the UEFA Euro 2012 semifinals, but their work is not done. After eventually winning 4-to-2 in penalty kicks, La Furia Roja must play the same caliber of defense in Sunday's Euro final if they hope to beat Germany or Italy.
The Spanish side didn't dominate the scoring column, but they did play more consistent football than Paolo Bento's side. They possessed the ball 14 percent more than Portugal, put three more shots on net and eventually made two more penalty shots than their Portuguese counterparts.
This same effort must carry over to Sunday's Euro finale. Germany's offense works at a frenetic pace, and Italy has a few extremely dangerous attackers. Vicente Del Bosque must make sure his squad brings focus and a solid work rate to their final Euro tilt.
There were times in Wednesday's match that looked like Portugal may take control.
The Portuguese side went through small periods of time where they won the possession battle, but Spain's steadfast presence on the defensive end stymied their attack.
Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos played consistently as central backs. Jordi Alba did an admirable job of containing Nani and Alvaro Arbeloa managed to keep his club teammate (Cristiano Ronaldo) off the board. The Spanish defense worked as a team, showed tremendous resolve and proved they're ready to stand up to any attack in Euro 2012's final stanza.
They better be ready. Italy and Germany are a combined plus-seven in this year's Euro action. Neither team is going to back down to the defending champions and both teams are capable of defeating a sleeping giant.
If Germany wins Thursday's second semifinal, I'd argue that Spain's defense must tighten up even more. Allowing 10 shots to Germany's devastating offense will result in more goals than it did on Wednesday. Portugal botched a handful of opportunities without the defense having any hand in actually stopping them.
Italy's advancement would also require defensive diligence for La Furia Roja on Sunday. The Italian side is patient offensively, but they are capable of doing some damage. They've struggled recently (shutout by England in quarterfinals), but it would be unwise to overlook their attack.
On Sunday, Spain will go for history. No country has ever repeated as Euro champions, but they will try to be the first.
If it's going to happen, the battle starts on the defensive end. Win that battle and they win the match.