DONETSK, Ukraine — Still not pretty to watch, still just as effective.
Spain again failed to dazzle at the European Championship yet still advanced to its third straight major championship final, beating Portugal 4-2 in a penalty shootout Wednesday following a scoreless draw after extra time.
“We’re playing better in defense than what the characteristics of our players would suggest,” Spain coach Vicente del Bosque said. “That’s what earns victories.”
After earning plaudits for the eye-catching one-touch passing that helped Spain win titles at Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup, this year’s team is struggling to create chances. Against Portugal, the defending champions managed only one quality shot in regulation time.
It didn’t matter, though, because the Spanish still came through when it mattered. Cesc Fabregas, who came on as a substitute in the second half, scored the deciding penalty after Bruno Alves hit the crossbar for Portugal moments earlier.
“I played poorly, but the team worked really hard,” Fabregas said. “I had this intuition that we could advance if we went to penalties and that’s what we did.”
Spain will next face either Germany or Italy on Sunday in Kiev.
“Being in another final is a miracle,” Fabregas said. “It’s really incredible.”
Cristiano Ronaldo had several chances for Portugal, but he sent three shots well over the crossbar as his team held its own for the entire match. The Real Madrid star, who came alive with three goals in his last two matches at the tournament, did not take a penalty in the shootout. He had been slated to take the fifth one, but it never got that far.
“Our players trained and were prepared for a situation like this,” Portugal coach Paulo Bento said. “We didn’t have much luck.”