FORTALEZA – World and European champions Spain reached the Confederations Cup final with a 7-6 penalty shootout win over Italy following a goalless draw in their semi-final on Thursday.
Italian defender Leonardo Bonucci was the only player to miss when he skied the 13th penalty of the contest high over the bar before Jesus Navas converted to send Spain through.
The victory extended Spain's record unbeaten run in competitive matches to 29 and set up the final which almost all neutrals wanted against hosts Brazil in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday.
Italy, who were the better team for periods against the world champions, will face Uruguay in the third-fourth place match in Salvador on the same day
"It was a very, very tough match today," Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas told Telecinco. "Italy set themselves up extremely well. Perhaps we had the clearer chances without really testing (Gianluigi) Buffon."
"We are through to another final which is very important for this generation of players and for Spain. We are very tired, very tired."
Italy coach Cesare Prandini, whose side were routed 4-0 by Spain in last year's Euro 2012 final, was pleased with their efforts.
"We played a great game, really, really good," he told Italian media. "We were always in the game. Spain are ahead of us because they've been working on their project for years.
"From the point of view of spirit, tactics and character, we are improving."
Italy wore black armbands in tribute to former AC Milan and Fiorentina forward Stefano Borgonovo who died earlier on Thursday after a seven-year battle against Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), a form of motor neurone disease.
Both teams went close in an excellent first half with Daniele De Rossi, Claudio Marchisio and Christian Maggio all wasting good chances for Italy.
Italy's 3-5-2 system worked well but, as usual, Spain still dominated possession and Pedro and Fernando Torres had chances which they failed to take.
World and European champions Spain made three changes from the team that beat Nigeria 3-0 on Sunday with skipper Casillas returning in goal and David Villa and Torres, who both came on as substitutes against the African champions, retaining their places.
Italy made six changes to the side that lost 4-2 to Brazil on Saturday with De Rossi returning after suspension and Andrea Pirlo back to orchestrate the midfield after recovering from a minor calf injury.
Up front Alberto Gilardino replaced in-form Mario Balotelli who has returned home for treatment to a thigh injury, but despite the changes and a different playing system with five in midfield, Italy often looked sharper and better organised.
The nature of he game changed after the break as both sides slowed to near walking pace in the heat with occasional flashes of inspiration such as an Andres Iniesta jinking run that ended with a disappointingly weak shot.
With Maggio and Emanuele Giaccherini dangerous down the flanks for Italy, and with Spain not quite finding the passes as they usually do, the game developed into an absorbing war of attrition, which ultimately ended in a deadlock and penalties.
Both sides hit the woodwork in extra time with Italy's Giaccherini thumping a left-footed shot against the post and Xavi forcing Buffon to touch a swerving shot onto the upright. – Reuters