It took 120 minutes and extra penalty kicks but Spain have beaten Italy to reach the Confederations Cup final. The victory sets up an exciting deciding match against hosts Brazil at the historic Maracana stadium in Rio.
Thursday's match was always going to be a hard-fought affair. The champions of the previous two World Cups last met in the Euro 2012 Final, which Spain convincingly won 4-0. Italy were determined not to repeat their previous performance, however, and it showed on the pitch.
Spain dominated possession in the early minutes of the match, but as the half wore on it was the Italians who would take control.
Taking advantage of the freedom Italy's three central defenders gives them, wingbacks Christian Maggio and Emanuele Giaccherini were constant threats along the flanks. Frequently Spain would find themselves drawn towards Maggio on the right side of the field, only for Andrea Pirlo to cross to a wide open Giaccherini on the left wing. The Juventus attacker sent a number of dangerous balls into the box during the first 45 minutes, but Spain's Iker Casillas was there to keep things even.
Italy were unlucky to go into halftime level, Spain had their defense and keeper Casillas (L) to thank for that
Andreas Iniesta did his best to get the offense going for the Spanish, but too often his through balls were picked out by Italy, who crowded the center of the field. Other than a few wide shots from Fernando Torres, goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon never had to worry. In fact the Italian captain did not face a shot on target the entire first half.
Spain go wide
Shortly after the restart, Spain Coach Vicente Del Bosque brought on Jesus Navas to counteract Italy's wide play. The move worked, and Spain immediately looked like a better side. Great defensive play from Italy's back line, however, kept the Spanish at bay.
The sides traded rare opportunities for the remainder of the half, but the deadlock was never broken. The exhausting heat at the Estadio Castelao in Fortaleza seemed to take its toll on the players and it showed in their subpar finishing.
After 90 minutes it remained scoreless, and extra time was next.
Spain were by far the dominant side from the 91st minute onward. A tired Italy were allowing passes through the middle that would've stood no chance earlier in the match. Opportunity after opportunity fell to the likes of Gerard Pique, Navas, Iniesta and Xavi. Javi Martinez, normally a defensive midfielder, was brought on to replace Torres at forward, but even that couldn't change the score line.
Finally, with two hours of football played, penalty kicks were to be the decider. In a replay of the Euro 2008 quarterfinal, the focus would be on the captains and hearts of their respective teams, Buffon and Casillas.
Fittingly, even the penalty kicks took longer than normal. Both Spain and Italy made their first five attempts, including a clever "Panenka" chip to open the shooting from Italy's Antonio Candreva. It was defender Leonardo Bonucci, stepping up for the Italians' seventh shot, who was first to miss. Jesus Navas, the man who made all the difference when he entered the match, made the next spot kick to win it and send Spain into the final.
The victory sets up an exciting Brazil against Spain final. Spain will go into the match holding the current world record of 29 competitive matches without a defeat. Brazil have won a record 11 Confederations Cup matches in a row and are the tournament's two-time defending champions.
The hosts will also have the advantage of an extra day's rest. Having played 120 minutes in the humid north of Brazil may come back to haunt the Spaniards when they face off against the Brazilians at the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday.