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Just like against Italy at Euro 2008, Cesc Fabregas stepped up to slot in the winning penalty in the shootout after 120 goalless minutes to edge out Portugal en route to the final

They almost met their match. Spain struggled, toiled at times, rarely looked comfortable against plucky Portugal and failed to score in two hours of absorbing, yet ultimately disappointing, football between these two Iberian rivals.

More than once it looked lost. Cristiano Ronaldo raced towards goal with a minute remaining, but blasted high over the bar. Then, in the shootout, the usually uber-cool Xabi Alonso saw his spot kick saved by Portugal goalkeeper Rui Patricio. Spain was on the rack. But Moutinho missed too and after Sergio Ramos produced a Pirlo moment with a cool chipped Panenka-style penalty to send Spain in front, it never looked back.

IN NUMBERS
Spain in major finals
2 Penalty shoot-out wins in international tournaments
3 Successive major finals
11 Since losing to Switzerland in the opening game of the last World Cup, Spain have won 10 and drawn one in major competitions
16 In 12 games under Del Bosque at major finals, La Roja have netted just 16 times - and four of those were against Ireland
65 Spain had almost 65 percent of the possession on Wednesday, but couldn't make it count in normal time
900 Minutes without conceding in major knockout games since 2006
Bruno Alves then crashed his effort against the bar and it was left to Cesc Fabregas, just like against Italy in the Euro 2008 quarterfinals, to slot home the winning penalty. And he did so with aplomb to leave Ronaldo shaking his head. More significantly, though, Spain was in the final. It will be called boring again after two hours of fruitless football but will be unlikely to care.

Not since the West Germany side of the early to mid 1970s has an European team made three straight finals in major competitions, but that is where La Roja look down from now, high on a perch they never imagined they could reach when they folded so familiarly in the World Cup second round to France in 2006.

But times have changed and Spain's senior side is now known for steel and substance as well as possession and passing: those three goals conceded against France remain the last let in during major knockout matches for this team led to glory at Euro 2008 by Luis Aragones and crowned champions of the world under Del Bosque two years later. That's nine games plus three periods of extra time: over 900 minutes of ultra-competitive football.

In this competition, Del Bosque's side has remained unbreached since its opening Group C game against Italy, when Antonio Di Natale struck to give the Azzurri a 59th-minute lead. Spain has been picked apart, criticized, mauled and mocked ever since. But it is now on the verge of something truly sensational: a third title in a row after 44 years as international also-rans.

So it may not have been pretty on the night, but treble-chasing Spain showed the nerve of champions - and there is nothing at all boring about that.

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