DONETSK, Ukraine — Still not pretty to watch, still just as effective.

Spain again failed to dazzle at the European Championship yet still advanced to its third straight major championship final, beating Portugal 4-2 in a penalty shootout Wednesday following a scoreless draw after extra time.

"We're playing better in defense than what the characteristics of our players would suggest," Spain coach Vicente del Bosque said. "That's what earns victories."

After earning plaudits for the eye-catching one-touch passing that helped Spain win titles at Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup, this year's team is struggling to create chances. Against Portugal, the defending champions managed only one quality shot in regulation time.

It didn't matter, though, because the Spanish still came through when it mattered. Cesc Fabregas, who came on as a substitute in the second half, scored the deciding penalty after Bruno Alves hit the crossbar for Portugal moments earlier.

"I played poorly, but the team worked really hard," Fabregas said. "I had this intuition that we could advance if we went to penalties and that's what we did."

Spain will next face either Germany or Italy on Sunday in Kiev.

"Being in another final is a miracle," Fabregas said. "It's really incredible."

Cristiano Ronaldo had several chances for Portugal, but he sent three shots well over the crossbar as his team held its own for the entire match. The Real Madrid star, who came alive with three goals in his last two matches at the tournament, did not take a penalty in the shootout. He had been slated to take the fifth one, but it never got that far.

"Our players trained and were prepared for a situation like this," Portugal coach Paulo Bento said. "We didn't have much luck."

After an often dour opening 90 minutes, the match livened up in the 30 minutes of extra time.

Spain midfielder Andres Iniesta forced Portugal goalkeeper Rui Patricio into a superb reflex save in the 103rd minute. Iniesta ghosted into the penalty area then held his head in disbelief as Rui Patricio reacted brilliantly to get a strong hand on his shot after Jordi Alba cut the ball back toward the penalty spot.

Rui Patricio made another fine save to deny substitute Jesus Navas in the 111th.

"Both teams were stronger in defense in the first 90 minutes, but that balance was broken in extra time," Spain coach Vicente del Bosque said.

Tempers frayed at times, with Portugal center half Pepe getting a yellow card for a challenge on Xabi Alonso as they went for a high ball. Ronaldo also received some heavy challenges late in the match.

In the shootout, Xabi had the first attempt saved by Rui Patricio before Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas saved Joao Moutinho's shot. Iniesta, Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos then all scored for Spain, while Pepe and Nani answered for Portugal.

"The first one wasn't so lucky, and then we scored the rest of them," Casillas said. "Yes, we really were lucky. Everything is about luck sometimes."

Del Bosque ditched his unorthodox 4-6-0 formation for Wednesday's match and opted for a traditional striker – but not the one many expected. Instead of Fernando Torres, it was Alvaro Negredo that got the start up front. But 10 minutes into the second half, Del Bosque replaced him with Fabregas.

Although Negredo worked hard, his lack of movement made him easy to mark. Spain improved as Fabregas made clever runs to stretch the defense and the defending champions dominated most of extra time with the substitution of Pedro Rodriguez for midfielder Xavi Hernandez late in the match.

"I think we were better in the first 90 minutes. Then in extra time we were less efficient," Bento said. "When we couldn't take advantage of our opportunities, Spain got stronger."

Rui Patricio was a big help in goal for Portugal, but much more was expected from Ronaldo. The winger had a chance, albeit a difficult one, to win the game in the 90th minute when Portugal poured forward after clearing a free kick. But Raul Meireles' pass was fractionally behind Ronaldo and, with momentum lost, he had to check his run and sent his shot high and wide.

Ronaldo briefly threatened early in the first half, whipping over a cross from the left wing that Casillas grabbed before Nani could head it in. He also sent a free kick into the wall after too easily tumbling under a challenge.

Working as a unit, Portugal started to gain the upper hand midway through the first half. Moutinho flicked the ball into the path of Ronaldo, whose wild shot flew over the net.

"Everyone helped to control Ronaldo," Del Bosque said.

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  • Spain v. Portugal

    Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo controls the ball in front of Spain's Alvaro Arbeloaduring the Euro 2012 soccer championship semifinal match between Spain and Portugal in Donetsk, Ukraine, Wednesday, June 27, 2012.

  • Spain v. Portugal

    Portugal head coach Paulo Bento shouts during the Euro 2012 soccer championship semifinal match between Spain and Portugal in Donetsk, Ukraine, Wednesday, June 27, 2012.

  • Spain v. Portugal

    Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo falls as he is flanked by Spain's Gerard Pique, right, and Alvaro Arbeloa during the Euro 2012 soccer championship semifinal match between Spain and Portugal in Donetsk, Ukraine, Wednesday, June 27, 2012.

  • Spain v. Portugal

    Portugal's Hugo Almeida, left, and Spain's Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos, right, go for a header during the Euro 2012 soccer championship semifinal match between Spain and Portugal in Donetsk, Ukraine, Wednesday, June 27, 2012.

  • Spain v. Portugal

    Spain's Sergio Ramos holds Portugal's Nani during the Euro 2012 soccer championship semifinal match between Spain and Portugal in Donetsk, Ukraine, Wednesday, June 27, 2012.

  • Spain v. Portugal

    Portugal's Fabio Coentrao kicks the ball, challenged by Spain's David Silva, left, during the Euro 2012 soccer championship semifinal match between Spain and Portugal in Donetsk, Ukraine, Wednesday, June 27, 2012.

  • Spain v. Portugal

    Spain's Gerard Pique, left, looks on as Portugal's Hugo Almeida controls the ball during the Euro 2012 soccer championship semifinal match between Spain and Portugal in Donetsk, Ukraine, Wednesday, June 27, 2012.

  • Spain v. Portugal

    Spain's Alvaro Arbeloa kicks the ball in front of Portugal's Miguel Veloso during the Euro 2012 soccer championship semifinal match between Spain and Portugal in Donetsk, Ukraine, Wednesday, June 27, 2012.

  • Spain v. Portugal

    Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo, right, and Spain's Alvaro Arbeloa run for the ball during the Euro 2012 soccer championship semifinal match between Spain and Portugal in Donetsk, Ukraine, Wednesday, June 27, 2012.

  • Spain v. Portugal

    Portugal's Fabio Coentrao, foreground, and Spain's Alvaro Negredo challenge for the ball during the Euro 2012 soccer championship semifinal match between Spain and Portugal in Donetsk, Ukraine, Wednesday, June 27, 2012.

  • Spain v. Portugal

    Spain's Andres Iniesta goes for the ball during the Euro 2012 soccer championship semifinal match between Spain and Portugal in Donetsk, Ukraine, Wednesday, June 27, 2012.

  • Spain v. Portugal

    Spain soccer fans cheer before the semifinal match between Spain and Portugal at the Euro 2012 soccer championship in Donetsk, Ukraine, Wednesday, June 27, 2012.

  • Spain v. Portugal

    Portugal's Fabio Coentrao kicks the ball, challenged by Spain's David Silva, left, during the Euro 2012 soccer championship semifinal match between Spain and Portugal in Donetsk, Ukraine, Wednesday, June 27, 2012.

  • Spain v. Portugal

    Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo, right, fails to score past Spain's Gerard Pique, left, and Sergio Ramos during the Euro 2012 soccer championship semifinal match between Spain and Portugal in Donetsk, Ukraine, Wednesday, June 27, 2012.

  • Spain v. Portugal

    Spain's David Silva, left, is challenged by Portugal's Joao Moutinho during the Euro 2012 soccer championship semifinal match between Spain and Portugal in Donetsk, Ukraine, Wednesday, June 27, 2012.

  • Spain v. Portugal

    Portugal's Joao Pereira, left, and Miguel Veloso reach for a ball during the Euro 2012 soccer championship semifinal match between Spain and Portugal in Donetsk, Ukraine, Wednesday, June 27, 2012.

  • Spain v. Portugal

    Spain's Alvaro Arbeloa, center, tries to get the ball past Portugal's Miguel Veloso, left, and Fabio Coentrao during the Euro 2012 soccer championship semifinal match between Spain and Portugal in Donetsk, Ukraine, Wednesday, June 27, 2012.

  • Spain v. Portugal

    Spain head coach Vicente del Bosque shouts during the Euro 2012 soccer championship semifinal match between Spain and Portugal in Donetsk, Ukraine, Wednesday, June 27, 2012.

  • Spain v. Portugal

    Spain's Andres Iniesta, left, fails to score past Portugal's Joao Pereira, right, and Pepe during the Euro 2012 soccer championship semifinal match between Spain and Portugal in Donetsk, Ukraine, Wednesday, June 27, 2012.

  • Spain v. Portugal

    Spain's Andres Iniesta, in red, is challenged by Portugal's Miguel Veloso, left, and Joao Pereira during the Euro 2012 soccer championship semifinal match between Spain and Portugal in Donetsk, Ukraine, Wednesday, June 27, 2012.

  • Spain v. Portugal

    Portugal's soccer fans sing their national anthem as they watch on a giant screen the Euro 2012 soccer championship semifinal match between Spain and Portugal, in Porto, Portugal, Wednesday, June 27, 2012.

  • Spain v. Portugal

    Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo, right, is challenged by Spain's David Silva during the Euro 2012 soccer championship semifinal match between Spain and Portugal in Donetsk, Ukraine, Wednesday, June 27, 2012.

  • Spain v. Portugal

    Spain's Xabi Alonso and Portugal's Pepe go for a header during the Euro 2012 soccer championship semifinal match between Spain and Portugal in Donetsk, Ukraine, Wednesday, June 27, 2012.

  • Spain v. Portugal

    Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir shows a yellow card to Spain's Sergio Busquets during the Euro 2012 soccer championship semifinal match between Spain and Portugal in Donetsk, Ukraine, Wednesday, June 27, 2012.

  • Spain v. Portugal

    Spain soccer fans react while watching the Euro 2012 soccer championship semifinal match between Spain and Portugal at the Fan Zone in Warsaw, Poland, Wednesday, June 27, 2012.

  • Spain v. Portugal

    Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo controls the ball during the Euro 2012 soccer championship semifinal match between Spain and Portugal in Donetsk, Ukraine, Wednesday, June 27, 2012.

  • Spain v. Portugal

    Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo, left, is challenged by Spain's Jordi Alba during the Euro 2012 soccer championship semifinal match between Spain and Portugal in Donetsk, Ukraine, Wednesday, June 27, 2012.

  • Spain v. Portugal

    Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo, bottom and Spain's Sergio Ramos fall over as they duel for the ball during the Euro 2012 soccer championship semifinal match between Spain and Portugal in Donetsk, Ukraine, Wednesday, June 27, 2012.

  • Spain v. Portugal

    Spain's Xabi Alonso, left, and Portugal's Joao Moutinho duel for the ball during the Euro 2012 soccer championship semifinal match between Spain and Portugal in Donetsk, Ukraine, Wednesday, June 27, 2012.

  • Spain v. Portugal

    Spain's Cesc Fabregas reacts during the Euro 2012 soccer championship semifinal match between Spain and Portugal in Donetsk, Ukraine, Wednesday, June 27, 2012.

  • Spain v. Portugal

    Spain's Alvaro Arbeloa left, and Portugal's Nelson Oliveira jump for the ball during the Euro 2012 soccer championship semifinal match between Spain and Portugal in Donetsk, Ukraine, Wednesday, June 27, 2012.

  • Spain v. Portugal

    Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo shoots a free kick during the Euro 2012 soccer championship semifinal match between Spain and Portugal in Donetsk, Ukraine, Wednesday, June 27, 2012.

  • Spain v. Portugal

    Portugal's Bruno Alves falls over Spain's Alvaro Negredo during the Euro 2012 soccer championship semifinal match between Spain and Portugal in Donetsk, Ukraine, Wednesday, June 27, 2012.

  • Spain v. Portugal

    Spain head coach Vicente del Bosque, center, talks with his players before the start of the extra-time during the Euro 2012 soccer championship semifinal match between Spain and Portugal in Donetsk, Ukraine, Wednesday, June 27, 2012.

  • Spain v. Portugal

    Spain's Gerard Pique clears the ball in front of Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo during the Euro 2012 soccer championship semifinal match between Spain and Portugal in Donetsk, Ukraine, Wednesday, June 27, 2012.

  • Spain v. Portugal

    Spain's Sergio Ramos gestures during extra time of the Euro 2012 soccer championship semifinal match between Spain and Portugal in Donetsk, Ukraine, Wednesday, June 27, 2012.

  • Spain v. Portugal

    Spain's Xabi Alonso, second right, is booked by referee Cuneyt Cakir of Turkey, top left, after fouling Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo, bottom, during the Euro 2012 soccer championship semifinal match between Spain and Portugal in Donetsk, Ukraine, Thursday, June 27, 2012.

  • Spain v. Portugal

    Portugal head coach Paulo Bento, center, talks to his players before the penalty shootout of the Euro 2012 soccer championship semifinal match between Spain and Portugal in Donetsk, Ukraine, Thursday, June 27, 2012.

  • Spain v. Portugal

    Stains from the pitch are seen on the shirt of Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo at the end of the extra-time of the Euro 2012 soccer championship semifinal match between Spain and Portugal in Donetsk, Ukraine, Thursday, June 27, 2012. (AP Photo/Armando Franca)

  • Spain v. Portugal

    Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo, right, talks to goalkeeper Rui Patricio prior to the penalty shootout of the Euro 2012 soccer championship semifinal match between Spain and Portugal in Donetsk, Ukraine, Thursday, June 28, 2012.

  • Spain v. Portugal

    Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas saves a penalty from Portugal's Joao Moutinho during a penalty shootout in the Euro 2012 soccer championship semifinal match between Spain and Portugal in Donetsk, Ukraine, Thursday, June 28, 2012. Spain beat Portugal 4-2 in penalty shootout after the match finished 0-0 following extra time.

  • Spain v. Portugal

    Portugal goalkeeper Rui Patricio dives for a shot by Spain's Xabi Alonso, unseen, that goes past the goal in the penalty shootout of the Euro 2012 soccer championship semifinal match between Spain and Portugal in Donetsk, Ukraine, Thursday, June 28, 2012.

  • Spain v. Portugal

    Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas saves a penalty from Portugal's Joao Moutinho during the Euro 2012 soccer championship semifinal match between Spain and Portugal in Donetsk, Ukraine, Thursday, June 28, 2012.

  • Spain v. Portugal

    Portugal goalkeeper Rui Patricio fails to save a shot by Spain's Gerard Pique, unseen, in the penalty shootout of the Euro 2012 soccer championship semifinal match between Spain and Portugal in Donetsk, Ukraine, Thursday, June 28, 2012.

  • Spain v. Portugal

    Spain's Gerard Pique scores his penalty shootout during the Euro 2012 soccer championship semifinal match between Spain and Portugal in Donetsk, Ukraine, Thursday, June 28, 2012.

  • Spain v. Portugal

    Spain players celebrate winning the penalty shootout of the Euro 2012 soccer championship semifinal match between Spain and Portugal in Donetsk, Ukraine, Thursday, June 28, 2012.