FORTALEZA: Spain will play hosts Brazil in the Confederations Cup Final in Maracana on Sunday after beating Italy 7-6 on penalties after a goalless extra time draw in a draining semi-final here.
Italy’s poor consolation, after coming so close to avenging their defeat in last year’s Euro 2012 final, is a third-place match against Uruguay, earlier that day.
Brazil manager Luiz Felipe Scolari and his players would have been delighted to see the match stretching out over two hours. They will be significantly fresher when it comes to Sunday’s final in Maracana after also having played their semi some 24 hours earlier.
The clash between the Euro 2012 final rivals was played at enormous tempo, with Italy never allowing the world and European champions the time to dwell on the ball in their usual fashion.
Spain captain Iker Casillas, recalled in goal, was by far the busier of the two keepers in the first half but the second half offered few scoring opportunities.
Italy’s Emanuele Giaccherini hit a post in the first half of extra time and Spain playmaker Xavi saw Gigi Buffon palm a 25-metre drive against the left-hand post 10 minutes into the second period.
After 12 perfect penalty kicks Leonardo Bonucci shot high over Casillas’s crossbar and Jesus Navas beat Buffon to send Spain into the final everyone – except, obviously, the Italians – had wanted.
Quirkily Casillas, without saving a penalty, was voted man of the match in the FIFA-organised worldwide internet ballot.
Spain’s unbeaten competitive run stretches over three years 11 days and/or 29 matches. They are also unbeaten in 26 matches since losing a friendly to England in November 2011.
Penalties (Italy first): Candrela 1-0, Xavi 1-1; Aquilani 2-1, Iniesta 2-2; De Rossi Matteo 3-2, Pique 3-3; Giovinco 4-3, Sergio Ramos 4-4; Pirlo 5-4, Mata 5-5; Montolivo 6-5, Busquets 6-6; Bonucci over bar 6-6, Navas 6-7