DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) — Spain is just one victory away from making history with a third straight major tournament win.
Spain labored to a penalty shootout win over Portugal to reach Sunday's final, where only Germany or Italy can keep it from an unprecedented feat of World Cup and Euro competitions.
"Hopefully we can achieve what nobody else has achieved," coach Vicente del Bosque said. "This would be great for everyone: for Spanish football and for our country as a whole.
"These are signs of progress taking place in Spanish sports, and hopefully it will carry over into society as well."
The record run is on course even if Spain's attack hasn't exactly lived up to high expectations, with the team's ability to grind out results becoming its trademark in Poland and Ukraine.
Spain is the only team besides West Germany to reach three straight finals, and the team can go one better than that West German side from the 1970s with a victory in Kiev.
"Spain has already made history and now we continue making it," captain Iker Casillas said. "I hope people remember this all their lives because who would have thought we could achieve this four years ago."
The Spanish, who won the Euro 2008 and World Cup in 2010, remain on course after Cesc Fabregas netted the decisive penalty after Wednesday's game ended 0-0 after extra-time.
"I had an intuition. In the afternoon I was thinking about it, that I would have a unique opportunity and I told (assistant coach) Toni Grande that I didn't want to shoot second, that I wanted to shoot fifth," Fabregas said at the Donbass Arena. "I think I spoke to the ball, I know what I told the ball. I said 'I think we'll be together right to the final.'"
Del Bosque's team has an extra rest day over its opponent, something that will be appreciated as the Spanish coach admitted that he replaced Xavi Hernandez against Portugal because of fatigue.
And there are no preferences for the world champions in the final.
"In either case, whichever team gets out of the semifinal will be a great team," Del Bosque said.
Spain's biggest concern going into the final will be its starting attack after surprise choice Alvaro Negredo failed to gel with his teammates against Portugal. Fabregas or Fernando Torres are the favorites, with the pair having scored two goals each and each starting twice in five games.
Despite its inability to find the back of the net, Spain remains upbeat about its chances.
"Spain keeps making history, nobody has done what we have and now if we win Sunday's final we can add the exclamation point to this era," said defender Sergio Ramos, whose audacious soft chip in the penalty shootout helped put Spain in command. "I hope people appreciate how difficult it is to get to where we are. Spain won't always win every game, but we hope that's not the case on Sunday."
Paul Logothetis can be reached at: www.twitter.com/PaulLogoAP