Italy had numerous chances and tactically muzzled Spain, but were beaten 7-6 on penalties in the Confederations Cup semi-final.
The teams could not be separated after 120 minutes in which Emanuele Giaccherini and Xavi rattled the woodwork, as Italy put in a brave and tactically astute performance to silence the reigning World and European Champions. The Azzurri will now face Uruguay in the third place play-off on Sunday, while Spain take on Brazil.
This Confederations Cup semi-final was also a replay of the Euro 2012 meetings, a 1-1 draw in the group phase and 4-0 Spanish victory in the Final. Mario Balotelli and Ignazio Abate were injured, though Andrea Pirlo and Daniele De Rossi returned from a calf problem and ban respectively. Italy switched to a three-man defence with Alberto Gilardino leading the attack. Spain also adjusted to a 4-1-4-1 with Fernando Torres up front, as Cesc Fabregas and Roberto Soldado were only fit for the bench.
The Azzurri wore black armbands after news filtered through just hours before the game that former Milan and Fiorentina striker Stefano Borgonovo had died. The 49-year-old was suffering from ALS, a form of muscular dystrophy that affects retired sportsmen.
Italy were dangerous on an early counter-attack, but Emanuele Giaccherini’s finish was well off target from just inside the area. Christian Maggio nodded a Pirlo corner over the bar, while another counter went close when Gilardino got in front of his marker only to turn wide.
A long Pirlo ball over the top found Maggio’s header, but Iker Casillas came tearing out to parry with his chest on 16 minutes.
Antonio Candreva also caused problems with a remarkable sprint up the left flank past two Spanish tackles, earning a free kick on the third. From that Pirlo set piece, De Rossi’s glancing header whistled just wide of the far post.
Moments later Maggio knocked down Giaccherini’s cross-field pass for a Claudio Marchisio diving header off target. Spain had all the possession early on, but Italy were notching up all the chances.
Casillas performed another desperate save on Maggio’s header at the back post from a Giaccherini cross floated over the defence.
Spain had their first real chance on 37 minutes when Torres turned Andrea Barzagli and the angled drive flashed inches past the far post.
The Azzurri had a double chance on the counter, as first Giaccherini’s effort was charged down, then De Rossi smacked the rebound on to the fists of Casillas.
Barzagli picked up a muscular problem in the first half, so made way for Riccardo Montolivo and De Rossi moved to centre-back. Jesus Navas also came off the bench and Gigi Buffon smothered his daisy-cutter, while Andres Iniesta fired well wide after a strong run.
Candreva sent Maggio down the right and he pulled back from the by-line for Marchisio, whose shot from six yards was crucially charged down for a corner by Gerard Pique. Another Candreva effort was blocked in the box from Gilardino’s assist, while Giorgio Chiellini’s looping header from a Pirlo corner landed on the roof of the net.
There was a real scare when Pedro sprung the offside trap down the left and was clear on goal, but Buffon rushed off his line and stood tall to force his finish wide.
Spain went on a smart counter-attack, but Pique ballooned over the bar from the penalty spot under pressure from Leonardo Bonucci. Jesus Navas also aimed a hopeful shot straight at Buffon. Torres knocked down a cross for Juan Mata, but he scuffed the finish under pressure from De Rossi and Chiellini.
In stoppages a wayward Alberto Aquilani overhead kick turned into an assist for the offside Gilardino. With the last kick of normal time, Xavi’s free kick was deflected off target.
Sebastian Giovinco replaced the utterly exhausted Gilardino for extra time. Javi Martinez came on for Torres, acting as a ‘False Nine.’
Buffon punched away a corner and blocked the Jesus Navas follow-up, but Italy rattled the woodwork in a fantastic opportunity. Giovinco’s attempt from a Candreva pull-back was blocked, but it fell to Giaccherini who lashed his shot against the upright.
A free kick came to the unmarked Pique, but De Rossi bravely flung himself at the Barcelona man to deflect it out for a corner. Another set play found Pique’s header that turned into an assist for Sergio Ramos, but again De Rossi cleared from six yards.
Iniesta flicked up a ball for Jordi Alba to volley over the bar, as did Xavi’s free kick after an Iniesta dive on the edge of the box, while Juan Mata fired wide.
Chiellini went down with cramp, but had to continue for the final 10 minutes as all substitutions had been completed.
Buffon flapped a Xavi screamer on to the upright and the move continued with a Martinez follow-up wide. Pirlo lost the ball in midfield and Buffon needed a fingertip to push the Jesus Navas angled drive inches past the base of the far post.
Candreva was up first and showed absolutely no fear with a chipped penalty over Iker Casillas. Xavi, Aquilani, Iniesta, De Rossi, Pique, Giovinco, Sergio Ramos, Pirlo and Juan Mata converted, so it went to sudden death.
Montolivo and Sergio Busquets both converted successfully, but Leonardo Bonucci ballooned the seventh Italy spot-kick over the bar. Jesus Navas was up with the decisive strike and placed it well to give Spain the victory on penalties, just like in the Euro 2008 quarter-final.
Spain 0-0 Italy (aet, 7-6 on pens)
Penalties: Candreva (goal), Xavi (goal), Aquilani (goal), Iniesta (goal), De Rossi (goal), Pique (goal), Giovinco (goal), Ramos (goal), Pirlo (goal), Juan Mata (goal), Montolivo (goal), Busquets (goal), Bonucci (over the bar), Jesus Navas (goal)
Spain: Casillas; Arbeloa, Piqué, Sergio Ramos, Jordi Alba; Busquets; Pedro (Juan Mata 79), Xavi, Iniesta, David Silva (Navas 53); Torres (Javi Martinez 94)
Italy: Buffon; Barzagli (Montolivo 46), Bonucci, Chiellini; Maggio, De Rossi, Pirlo, Giaccherini; Candreva, Marchisio (Aquilani 79); Gilardino (Giovinco 91)
Ref: Webb (ENG)