Spain are heading to the final of Euro 2012 with a chance to win three consecutive major finals, and the heat will be on Portugal manager Paulo Bento after this match. He got his tactics spot on, with his team doing brilliantly to hold Spain to a 0-0 draw after 120 minutes, but he didn't have Cristiano Ronaldo take one of his team's first four penalties. With Spain taking first and his team missing twice, he never got a chance to take one as La Roja went through 4-2 on penalty kicks.
Alvaro Negredo made a surprise start for Spain, winning a spot over the team's other two strikers and Cesc Fabregas, who was expected to start as a makeshift center forward in a no-striker formation for the Spaniards. The decision seemed curious from the start and Negredo did very little to silence his doubters with a very mediocre performance, bordering on poor.
Portugal looked good in the opening minutes of the game, but they fell asleep and gave up the game's first big chance in the 9th minute. After Bruno Alves intercepted a cross, he attempted to pass the ball out of his own area but instead found the feet of Alvaro Arbeloa. Spain's right back stepped up and took a shot, but powered it well over the crossbar.
There was a long gap between chances until Andres Iniesta was set up for one in the 29th minute. The ball was worked around the edge of the box following a long ball over the top of the defense, eventually finding the feet of Iniesta on the left side of the area. He came inside and found a space to take a right-footed shot, but missed high. Two minutes later, Ronaldo created a decent opportunity for himself, but missed his shot from 20 yards just wide of the near post. That would be the last clear chance of the first half.
Vicente del Bosque allowed Negredo to continue despite his poor first half performance, but it became obvious early in the second half that he wasn't going to make a positive impact on the game for his team. He was substituted out very early, with del Bosque taking him out for Fabregas in the 54th minute in a switch to the formation he was expected to start with.
Hugo Almeida started for Portugal in place of the injured Helder Postiga, and was arguably even less effective than Negredo. Even though Bento had a good young option in Nelson Oliveira on his bench, he waited much longer to make a change. Almeida wasted a chance with a horrific shot in the 57th minute, the first of three abysmal shots that went well off target before he was finally substituted for Oliveira in the 81st minute.
Spain would make their second substitution in the 61st minute, bringing on Jesus Navas for David Silva. It was a poor match for Silva, who has had an excellent tournament to this point, and this change turned out to be a very positive one for del Bosque. Navas's pace and direct running caused problems for Portugal throughout the rest of the second half and extra time. Spain made their final sub just before the end of normal time, with Pedro replacing Xavi Hernandez, a switch that moved Andres Iniesta inside.
Ultimately, there wouldn't be too many chances in the second half. Spain struggled to create them throughout the half even though Fabregas and Navas were upgrades over the men they replaced. Portugal's defense and midfield played well, and they created one of the best chances of the game in the 90th minute. The Portuguese defense cleared well on a Spain corner kick and broke out quickly, creating a three-on-three counter attack. Raul Meireles had a chance to play Ronaldo in one-on-one with Casillas, but placed his pass just behind his captain. Ronaldo recovered well to create a shooting chance, but hit a horrible right-footed shot well wide of the target. With no goals through 90 minutes, the sides headed for extra time.
The first 10 minutes of extra time were very uneventful, but things began to get fun right at the end of the first extra time period. In the 101st minute, Navas blasted a shot high when it looked like he was going to hit the target from inside the area. Two minutes later, Jordi Alba set up Iniesta for a close-range shot, but Rui Patricio made an absolutely spectacular reaction save, then recovered to gather the ball two seconds later. Just before the end of the period, Sergio Ramos hit an excellent free kick just inches wide.
In the 113th minute, Portugal made a risky substitution and it almost backfired. Bento brought on pacy winger Silvestre Varela for Meireles in an attempt to go for the win, but that created a midfield that was extremely wide open, leading to Spain's domination of the final seven minutes of extra time. They created something immediately, taking advantage of the space in midfield with a Pedro breakaway. The Portugal defense recovered brilliantly, however, and Fabio Coentrao made an excellent clearance. Spain were well on top until the end, with the final minutes of extra time being played entirely in the Portugal penalty area, but their defense held on for penalties.
The penalty shootout started with a magnificent save by Patricio on Xabi Alonso, but he was instantly matched by his counterpart. Casillas kept the shootout level by making a save of his own on Joao Moutinho. The next three penalties were made without incident to put Spain up 2-1 when Alves walked up to the penalty spot.
Many will point to the following penalty by Spain as the turning point in the shootout, but it very well could have been this as well. Alves apparently broke the order set by his manager, and Nani was forced to run up and tell his teammate that it was actually his turn to take a spot kick. Alves walked back to the halfway line and Nani buried a brilliant penalty to make it 2-2.
Sergio Ramos was next up and hit a brilliant chipped penalty, a la Andrea Pirlo, past Casillas to make it 3-2. That brought Alves up to the spot. Whether he was rattled by Nani making him wait, by Ramos's chip or by nothing at all, it is unclear. Alves missed his spot kick, rattling the crossbar.
That brought up Fabregas, who sealed the victory for Spain. Depending on how one looks at it, it was either the perfect penalty or a lucky miss for Fabregas, whose shot hit the inside of the post and snuck into the back of the net to give Spain the 4-2 win. Incredibly, La Roja were allowed to win a shootout without Ronaldo ever attempting a penalty.
You can find all of our previous coverage in our Portugal vs. Spain, Euro 2012 Semifinals StoryStream. For more on Euro 2012 and the entire world of football, follow @SBNationSoccer on Twitter.