For 120 minutes Spain and Italy battled to a scoreless deadlock in the hot and humid Brazilian evening. Through six rounds of penalties, no one missed and the pressure built. Finally it was Leonardo Bonucci who cracked, sending his PK over the crossbar, allowing Jesús Navas to put Spain into the final.
Spain were all over Italy from the opening whistle and nearly got on the board in the 2nd minute after Pedro Rodriguez got free in space in the middle of the Italy box. The Barcelona forward's shot rolled just wide of the post, barely missing giving La Roja a dream start to the match.
Italy were able to hit at Spain on the counter attack and earned a corner kick in the 8th minute that almost yielded a goal. The one and only Andrea Pirlo sent a lovely ball into the middle of the area where Christian Maggio got free and was able to get a clean header off. His effort sailed over the crossbar, but it was a close call for Spain despite their early domination.
As the half moved on, Italy settled into their defensive shell and continued to counter when the opportunity presented itself. In the 15th minute, Maggio found Alberto Gilardino, who had created some space between himself and his marker, with a loss cross but the striker's shot to the far post rolled wide of the post.
Then, out of nowhere, the Azzurri flipped the switch and really cranked up the pressure.
Less than two minutes later, Maggio beat Jordi Alba to a long ball on the left edge of the box but Iker Casillas read the play well and was right on top of Maggio's header, blocking it away from danger. A minute later Fernando Torres lost Daniele De Rossi on a set piece, but the Roma midfielder's header went wide of the goal.
Claudio Marchisio got in on the fun in the 18th minute, sending a diving header from the center of the Spanish area wide to the right. Again it was Maggio helping create the chance as he gave Alba fits on the right wing, "clowning him" if you prefer a more colorful explanation.
Basically what Pennywise did to Bill Denbrough.
Italy were again denied in the 37th minute thanks to a tremendous save by Casillas. Emanuele Giaccherini found Maggio -- who again had gotten behind Alba as the Barca wingback's nightmarish day continued -- who put a textbook diving header on frame that was expertly blocked by the Spanish goalkeeper.
Despite all the chances -- a plethora if you will -- Italy couldn't convert any of the multitude of chances they had in the opening 45 minutes and the match went to the break scoreless.
It was definitely a bit slower during the opening 20 minutes of the second half as Italy continued to dictate the pace. The counter attack chances weren't as prevalent though, and while Spain saw a bit more of the ball, they weren't able to do much with their own attack.
Italy got a great chance in the 68th minute when Marchisio received the ball in the six-yard box but his shot was blocked thanks to an excellent tackle by Gerard Pique.
In the 85th minute Pique had a chance of his own after Fernando Torres found some energy and made a slicing run into the Italian area. Torres dropped the ball back to the charging defender but his shot was woefully poor, flying well over the crossbar and into the crowd behind the goal.
The second half may have lacked the dramatic close calls we saw in the first half but it was still a fascinating tactical chess match as Spain tried to find a way past Italy's staunch defense. In the end, they couldn't do it and extra time was required.
The trend of Italy getting the dangerous chances continued early in the extra time as substitute Sebastian Giovinco deflected a ball across the face of goal to the far post where it was met by Giaccherini. The Juventus midfielder's shot beat Casillas but hammered off the post, again denying the Italians a goal.
From there it was all Spain.
Spain were denied in the 96th minute thanks to a fantastic reaction and block by De Rossi who prevented Pique from getting onto a loose ball in the six-yard box. Sergio Ramos had a chance on the ensuing corner, but couldn't get his header anywhere near the goal.
Two minutes later Iniesta's picture-perfect chip into the path of Jordi Alba was wasted as the wingback couldn't get his volley attempt down and sent it just over the crossbar.
Juan Mata sent a shot wide to the left in the 108th minute but his focus on the goal may have cost Spain a chance as Álvaro Arbeloa was lurking unmarked to his right.
More from Spain in the 115th minute when Xavi's missile from distance was parried by Gianluigi Buffon and off the post. The ball ricocheted right to Javi Martinez but his shot rolled wide at the far post.
In the end, 120 minutes was not enough and we went to the dreaded penalty kicks. Easily the most cruel way to decide a sporting event that has ever been invented. It's like being put in the "Torture Rack" by Lex Luger.
For six rounds of penalties, both teams were perfect. Antonio Candreva's paneka opened things up and systematically Xavi, Aquilani, Iniesta, De Rossi, Pique, Giovinco, Ramos, Pirlo, Mata, Montolivo and Sergio Busquets all scored.
Then a nervous-looking Leonardo Bonucci stepped up for Italy and skied his effort over the crossbar. Jesús Navas, a player who once avoided international games due to anxiety, calmly beat Buffon to send Spain into the final against Brazil.
Just a wonderfully entertaining match between two excellent teams.