DONETSK: Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo will have to wait another two years to see if he will grace a major final for only the second time after Spain edged his side 4-2 on penalties in their Euro 2012 semi-final on Wednesday.
However, many will question what happened in the penalty shootout as he stood like a spare part -- a disconsolate one at that -- as Cesc Fabregas put away the winning penalty leaving him as Portugal's fifth penalty taker superfluous to proceedings.
Even more strangely, both centrebacks had preceded their captain to the penalty spot, though Bruno Alves's first attempt was cut off in its prime as Nani ran up and told him to go back.
Alves was eventually to go fourth and miss opening the way for Fabregas to squeeze his winner over the line.
Portuguese coach Paulo Bento, though, was unrepentant about marking Ronaldo down in fifth.
"If it had been 4-4 and he had taken the last penalty, we'd be talking in a different way. It's about strategy and we'd defined that before," said Bento.
Ronaldo was phlegmatic about the defeat, though, the disappointment was etched all over his face.
"We didn't lack for conviction but we were unlucky. That's penalties for you," said Ronaldo, who not for the first time this tournament had opposing fans chanting the name of his great rival in Primera Liga "Messi! Messi!"
"We really gave it all we had, and it's difficult to go out on penalties. We showed a lot of quality," said Manchester United's Nani, who put away his kick after appearing to push Alves down the pecking order.
"In the end Spain simply had more luck than we did. But people in Portugal can be proud of their team. We are sad as we deserved to be in the final -- but we can go home with our heads held high," Nani insisted in an echo of England coach Roy Hodgson, whose own side tasted defeat in a penalty shootout against Italy in the quarter-finals.
The loss after 120 tense minutes had ended goalless meant Portugal failed to reach only their second trophy match after Euro 2004 on home soil.
Yet it appeared their penalty-taking strategy had backfired with Ronaldo saved until last -- too late to make a difference.
Striker Nelson Oliveira insisted that the Portuguese could not be faulted for their showing against the world and European champions.
"Of course we are unhappy we didn't make it but we should hold our heads high. We did all we could but sadly that wasn't quite enough to get to the final.
"We played very well and absolutely matched Spain all the way." AFP