Love them or hate them, Spain have the nerve of champions

 Ben Hayward
 Spain Expert Follow on


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They almost met their match. Spain struggled, toiled at times, rarely looked comfortable and failed to score in two hours of absorbing, yet ultimately disappointing, football between these two Iberian rivals.

More than once it looked lost. Cristiano Ronaldo raced towards goal with a minute remaining, but blasted high over the bar. Then, in the shootout, the usually uber-cool Xabi Alonso saw his spot kick saved by Portugal goalkeeper Rui Patricio. Spain were on the rack. But Moutinho missed too and after Sergio Ramos produced a Pirlo moment with a cool chipped Panenka-style penalty to send Spain in front they never looked back.

Bruno Alves then crashed his effort against the bar and it was left to Cesc Fabregas, just like against Italy in the Euro 2008 quarter-finals, to slot home the winning penalty. And he did so with aplomb to leave Ronaldo shaking his head. More significantly, though, Spain were in the final. They will be called boring again after two hours of fruitless football but they are unlikely to care.

Not since the West Germany side of the early to mid 1970s has an international team made three straight finals in major competitions, but that is where La Roja look down from now, high on a perch they never imagined they could reach when they folded so familiarly in the World Cup second round to France in 2006.

But times have changed and Spain's senior side is now known for steel and substance as well as possession and passing: those three goals conceded against France remain the last let in during major knockout matches for this team led to glory at Euro 2008 by Luis Aragones and crowned champions of the world under Del Bosque two years later. That's nine games plus three periods of extra time: over 900 minutes of ultra-competitive football.

In this competition, Del Bosque's side have remained unbreached since their opening Group C game against Italy, when Antonio Di Natale struck to give the Azzurri a 59th-minute lead. Spain have been picked apart, criticised, mauled and mocked ever since. But they are now on the verge of something truly sensational: a third title in a row after 44 years as international also-rans.

So it may not have been pretty on the night, but treble-chasing Spain showed the nerve of champions - and there is nothing at all boring about that.

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