Confederations Cup: Jesus sets up heavenly match

SportsSpanish players celebrate after Jesus Navas scores from the spot to put the team in the final. Reuters

The Confederations Cup has got the final that nearly everyone wanted. The World Cup holders against the five-time champions. The two-time European champions against the tournament hosts. Spain's passing wizards vs Brazil's new star Neymar.

Spain overcame Italy 7-6 in a penalty shootout after surviving an energy-draining semi-final that ended goalless after two hours in sapping heat and humidity on Thursday. Substitute Jesus Navas converted the winning penalty past Gianluigi Buffon after Italian defender Leonardo Bonucci skied the 13th penalty of the shootout with the score level at 6-6 at a spellbound Estadio Castelao.

All the previous 12 penalties had been converted with players from both sides displaying nerves of steel as the tension increased. Antonio Candreva began what was effectively the fourth act of a classic match when he planted the ball past Spain goalkeeper Iker Casilla and after that, 11 others stepped up and dealt with the mounting pressure before Bonucci's kick ended up in Row Z.

The Spanish players found their last dregs of energy to celebrate wildly as they set up a title clash against Brazil at the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro. Brazil, who beat Uruguay 2-1 in Wednesday's semi-final will be looking for their third successive Confederations Cup title and fourth overall.

The tournament, which is being used as a test event for next year's World Cup finals in Brazil, has been shrouded in controversy with the matches overshadowed by riots and protests about social issues and the cost of hosting the World Cup.

DISTINCT PERIODS

The atmosphere in the stadia, however, has taken soccer fans' minds off the chaos outside and Thursday's semi-final between the Euro2012 finallists was no different as the game fell into four distinct acts.

Italy dominated the first half before Spain got back into the game in the second. The world champions then asserted themselves in extra time, while the denouement was the penalty shootout that appeared as if they could last all night until Bonucci's miss.

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