Spain sends Italy packing

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:43 AM ET

VIENNA -- The game was not befitting the exceptional quality of this tournament.

But the result was.

In a much-anticipated game that left everyone with much disappointment, Spain made sure there would be no more second chances, no more last-minute escapes for the World Cup champion Italians.

On a hot, steamy night, after 120 minutes of play that ended 0-0, Spain put Italy out of Euro 2008 last night winning 4-2 on kicks from the penalty spot.

Spain will go on to play Russia in a semifinal on Thursday in Vienna while Italy will go home with the realization it must be out with the old and in with the new.

Neither team had very much left to give when it was over. Spain will proceed, no doubt with great confidence in the realization they have responded to pressure in this tournament and been successful. With so many failures in the past, it was the big question they had to answer.

But for a tournament that has produced so many outstanding games and individual moments, this final quarter-final game lacked the quality and intensity that has so enthralled observers.

The Italians played as if they were afraid to lose instead of wanting to win.

Spain carried most of the positive play but when you couple Italy's lack of desire to come forward and Spain's lack of penetrating power, the game had few riveting moments.

Most of Spain's opportunities came on long-range shots.

But Italy lacked everything except quality defending. It was back to the future for a team that came to the tournament wanting to attack.

They had little idea how to create chances, little diversity in their play. Their approach was simple because it had to be. It amounted to two passes and a high-ball to Luca Toni.

The Italians played the game without midfielders Gennaro Gattuso and Andrea Pirlo. Even though Pirlo has been only average in this tournament, his absence was obvious. No one in the Italian midfield seemed capable of taking charge. Both teams must have felt they wouldn't score because they resorted to diving at the merest hint of a tackle, looking for the referee to give them something.

German referee finally got fed up and gave David Villa a yellow card.

Such was the calibre of the game. It was inevitable it would come to penalties.

Italy won the 2006 World Cup on penalties. Not this time.

Spain's keeper Iker Casillas stopped Daniele De Rossi and Di Natale. Gianluigi Buffon had earlier stopped Daniel Guiza.

It was left to Cesc Fabregas and he made no mistake. It set off a celebration for thousands of Spanish fans. They set off flares in the stands and took to the streets.

"Penalties are always a lottery and it was about time we won one. We deserve it," said Casillas. "It was important because our team hasn't made it beyond the quarters for so long."

How much longer older Italians such as Mauro Camoranese and Gennaro Gattuso will survive, is open to debate. They did not play well.

And will Italian coach Roberto Donadoni survive? He has a new contract, but it was geared to Italy doing well here. He didn't want to talk about it, preferring to talk about his players.

"They gave everything. They did not have a crumb left to give," Donadoni said. "I feel sorry for them. Naturally, this loss weighs heavily on me. But the players can be proud."

He was asked again if he was waiting for anything, referring to his firing.

"What am I supposed to be waiting for?" he asked. "Tomorrow we'll begin again."

How many tomorrows he and some of his players will have, remains to be seen.

For Spain, Wednesday brings Russia, a team that will attack no matter what. After last night's game, it will be a refreshing change.


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