Spain beat Italy 4-2 on penalties on Sunday to reach the UEFA EURO 2008 semi-finals and in so doing broke a number of painful hoodoos.

Goalkeeper Iker Casillas saved penalties from Daniele De Rossi and Antonio Di Natale before Arsenal midfielder Cesc Fabregas buried the winning spot-kick after the match had ended 0-0 after extra-time.

The Spaniards will play Russia in Thursday's semi-final in Vienna, having already beaten them 4-1 in their opening Group D match. They had never before beaten Italy at either the FIFA World Cup or the EURO competition, and on three previous occasions over the last 22 years had lost a quarter-final at a major tournament on penalties on this exact date: June 22.

"This is wonderful, it is impossible to find the words to express such an emotion," gasped Fabregas. "We are just simply delighted. This is an important victory for this young side. We have been waiting for this for a long time."

Aragones vindicated
For Spanish coach Luis Aragones it was a case of being vindicated for not stepping down after they went out in the second round of the 2006 FIFA World Cup finals.

"I would like to congratulate first of all my players for their remarkable behaviour and maintaining their morale during the match," said the 69-year-old. "It was very difficult because the Italians closed down all the spaces, which made it difficult to play our natural game."

His Italian counterpart Roberto Donadoni was disappointed but proud of his players. "When one loses on penalties, it is obviously very disappointing," said Donadoni, who knows at first hand as a player what it is like having missed one in the 1990 FIFA World Cup semi-final penalty shoot out loss to Argentina.

"We were shattered and tired. I had to study very carefully throughout the match as to who to change and who to bring on," he added. "I think that the players can exit the tournament with their heads held high, because they gave everything. At the end of the day, that is a positive. Tomorrow is another day."

The match took on a predictable pattern in the first half with Italy defending resolutely and Spain overplaying the passes and underplaying the urgency. Italy had the first shot on target when Massimo Ambrosini crossed for Simone Perrotta but his header lacked power.

David Villa had a shot blocked by De Rossi before Gianluigi Buffon got down quickly to save his free-kick.

Fernando Torres then beat two men on Spain's left but De Rossi, again, was there to block before David Silva sent the follow-up just wide.

Just after the restart, a ricochet in the box presented Silva with an opportunity, but having created space for himself, he tried to bring the ball back onto his favoured left foot and the chance went begging.

Looking for a hole
On 56 minutes Spain finally took a more direct route and Torres muscled Christian Panucci off the ball only to have his cross, aimed at Villa, cut out by Giorgio Chiellini. The Juventus stopper was proving majestic in defence and cut out a cross from Joan Capdevila that looked destined for Torres's head.

The game was finally starting to liven up and Italy came within a whisker of taking the lead after a scramble in Spain's box with goalkeeper Casillas kicking away a shot from substitute Mauro Camoranesi.

Italy were starting to have more of the game and Luca Toni headed wide from a great cross by Gianluca Zambrotta.

Ten minutes from time Marcos Senna forced Buffon to punch his fierce free-kick clear, and moments later Buffon spilled a shot from the same player before clutching on gratefully after the ball came back off the post.

Extra time was immediately more exciting than what had come before as Silva flashed a shot wide just after the restart. Up the other end Casillas tipped over a header from Di Natale and Toni flicked another header just over the top.

But the match quickly settled back down into its frustrating stalemate.

Spain had the last chance of the match but Santi Cazorla dragged a shot wide instead of squaring for the unmarked Villa.