Spain held their nerve to edge past Italy on penalties and book a final showdown against Brazil in the FIFA Confederations Cup.
The world champions were given a stern examination in Fortaleza on Thursday but they stood up to the test and extended their record-breaking unbeaten run in all competitions to 29 matches.
Both sides had chances to win the tie in normal time and in the 30 minutes of extra time that followed but it came down to spot-kicks and after six successful attempts each, it was Leonardo Bonucci who blinked first and substitute Jesus Navas capitalised to plunder the winning penalty.
In a game that saw the two sides meet for the first time since Spain won 4-0 in the final of Euro 2012, Vicente del Bosque kept faith with the competition’s top scorer Fernando Torres up front.
Italy, however, were forced into a change in attack due to an injury suffered by Mario Balotelli, with the Milan striker having flown home with a thigh injury. Alberto Gilardino was the man to replace him.
Manager Cesare Prandelli was able to call on the services of midfielder Andrea Pirlo, who missed the 4-2 defeat to Brazil after suffering a calf injury.
Italy started much the brighter and had the first chance of the match, with Christian Maggio heading narrowly over from a corner after seven minutes. The full-back then forced the first save of the game from Iker Casillas following a quick break shortly after.
The pressure continued as Daniele De Rossi glanced a header just wide from a Pirlo cross, but Del Bosque’s men soon began to show some composure and calm the game down.
Still it was the Italians who should have led heading into the break as Maggio directed a close-range header straight at Casillas 10 minutes before the interval.
The game slowed down in the second half, with the first effort coming after 57 minutes when Navas forced a good save from Gianluigi Buffon.
Gerard Pique spurned a good opportunity to break the deadlock late on as he fired a shot over the bar, before good link-up play between Torres and Navas saw the new Manchester City signing sting the palms of Buffon with a powerful strike.
Spain continued to pile on the pressure right into stoppage time at the end of the second half but to no avail.
It took until the third minute of extra time for the best chance of the match arrive as Italy substitute Sebastian Giovinco crashed an effort off the post with Casillas stranded.
With both Torres and Gilardino now substituted, both sides were playing without a recognised striker and the goal drought continued, although Juan Mata went close with a curling effort in the second half of extra time.
Xavi Hernandez saw his long-range effort hit the post in the closing stages and penalties beckoned.
The first 12 efforts were textbook examples of how to keep your cool under pressure but after Sergio Busquets had cancelled out Riccardo Montolivo’s assured strike to make it 6-6, Bonucci ballooned his effort well over the bar and Navas stepped up to fire a low effort into the corner and seal victory for the Spaniards.
Spain will play Brazil in the final on Sunday, while Italy will meet Uruguay in the third-place play-off on the same day.
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