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Spain Ready to End 44 Years of Hurt With Euro Title

Spain captured their only major international trophy when they won the 1964 European Championship on home soil. Luis Aragones' young side are hoping emulate that feat in Vienna on Sunday, June 29, against Germany.

Spanish players celebrate after the semifinal match between Russia and Spain in Vienna

Spain were imperious against Russia and head into the final in good form

For a team which has become notorious for losing its bottle at the business end of tournaments and flattering to deceive on a consistent basis, Spain move into their first major final in 24 years full of confidence while playing the kind of soccer they normally only reserve for the early rounds.

Since they took to the field in Paris to contest the 1984 European Championship title against hosts France, Spain have turned up for tournaments with squads full of the world's biggest stars and the continent's most talented players but have failed to make the latter stages.

Many huge names from Spanish soccer have graced the World Cup and European Championship stages in the shirt of the Furia Roja -- and have shown their worth for about three games before meekly surrendering when things got serious.

Normally it's the quarter-final stage. Such has been the regularity that the Spanish bow out at this stage, that it has become a bit of a mental block, if not a downright curse. This year however, despite the fact that they were facing world champions Italy at this stage, Spain overcame both the Italians and the psychological barrier to make it to the semis.

Before earning themselves a place against Italy, Luis Aragones' team played their way through Group D with skill and panache. Their opening game, a 4-1 thrashing of Russia, got everyone believing again, while harboring all those memories of false dawns and premature celebrations.

Opening game sends impressive message

Spain's David Villa, third form left, scores the opening goal during the group D match between Spain and Russia

David Villa opened his account with a hat trick against Russia and got the ball rolling

Russia were supposed to be a new force, one with an attacking vision that could have overcome a sometimes ponderous Spanish defense. But not only did the rear guard hold firm, the spearhead proved deadly. A David Villa hat trick and a cameo goal from substitute Cesc Fabregas showed the world that Spain had a rod of steel running from back to front, with a very sharp point at its attacking end.

The edge looked a little blunt when Spain came up against the Swedes in their second group match. Fernando Torres got his first goal of the tournament, only to see it cancelled by Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The game looked to be heading for a disappointing draw -- which no doubt would have prompted questions about Spain's true quality -- when that man Villa popped up again to net a last gasp winner in the second minute of stoppage time.

With qualification assured, Spain then finished off their group stage with a 2-1 win over already eliminated champions Greece, with Aragones fielding his reserves in a routine win. Spain had to come from behind to grab the points, with goals from Reuben de la Red and Daniel Guiza. It was far from a classy performance but one which showed that Spain could dig deep and regain the advantage even without a host of first-teamers on the pitch.

Omens gather for quarter-final against Italy

Then came Italy. Spain hadn't beaten the Italians in a competitive match since a 2-0 win at the 1920 Olympic Games in Belgium some 88 years ago. There was also a certain amount of animosity bubbling under the surface, if the Spanish press could be believed.

Spain, it was claimed, were looking for revenge for the assault by Mario Tassotti on Luis Enrique which went unpunished in the quarter-final of the 1994 World Cup in the United States, a match Spain lost 2-1.

Whatever the motivation, Spain dominated possession throughout regulation time but failed to translate their dominance into clear goal chances. Villa and David Silva came close several times to breaking the tense deadlock for Spain while Italy offered few attacking threats. Spain's domination continued into extra time, with Italy's keeper Buffon saving from Villa and Santi Cazorla shooting wide.

Spain's Iker Casillas, right, saves a penalty kicked by Italy's Daniele De Rossi

Iker Casillas saves one of the penalties in the shoot-out

Spain may have had their horrible record in penalty shoot-outs at the back of their minds but they didn't show it. While the Spanish slotted in four of their kicks, keeper Iker Casillas was the hero, saving penalties from Daniel De Rossi and Antonio Di Natale to put Spain in the semi-finals.

The shoot-out victory also ended Spain's June 22 penalty jinx. On June 22, 1986, Spain lost to Belgium in a dramatic World Cup quarter-final shoot-out, then against England in Euro 1996 on the same June date 10 years later.

And it was on June 22, 2002 that the Spaniards lost to hosts South Korea in the 2002 World Cup quarters.

Spain raise their game to dominate Russia

Meeting Russia again in the semi-final, Spain knew that their opponents had grown in confidence since their thrashing in the first game. The return of Andrei Arshavin had inspired Russia against Sweden in the game that sealed qualification and then again in the rampant display that knocked the Dutch out in the quarter-final.

Spanische Mannschaft feiert ihr 3 zu 0

Spain turned on the style to overcome Russia

But Spain were irrepressible and Arshavin was eclipsed by substitute Cesc Fabregas, on for the injured David Villa after only 30 minutes or so of play. Fabregas delivered a midfield masterclass, pulling the strings and conducting the play as Spain ran out 3-0 winners.

Germany may not have fancied playing the Russians, with their unpredictably marauding style, but they may not be looking forward to facing a Spain team just one game away from ending 44 trophy-less years of hurt.

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