Spain must be hoping the shootout win over Italy that carried it into the European Championship semifinals is more proof that title-winning teams pick up victories even when they don't play well.
In a thrilling finale to Sunday's Euro 2008 match at Ernst Happel Stadium, Iker Casillas saved penalties from Daniele De Rossi and Antonio Di Natale before Cesc Fabregas scored the winning kick to give Spain a 4-2 shootout victory over the World Cup champions.
But the finish was in stark contrast to the dull 0-0 draw that preceded it, with neither side meeting its potential.
"We deserved to win on penalty kicks," Spain coach Luis Aragones said. "We didn't play great football, but neither did Italy.
"The pace of the game was rather slow. If we'd had a little more pace on the ball, we'd have got more chances. We had three or four chances but our shooting wasn't quite there."
That's something Spain will have to work on if it's to compete with Russia when the teams meet in the same stadium on Thursday.
Spain, the only one of the four group winners to reach the semifinals at Euro 2008, downed Russia 4-1 in a group match, but the Russians have improved dramatically since then and cut apart Sweden and then the Netherlands to reach the last four.
"We would be naive to think that because we already beat Russia 4-1 we will find it easy," Casillas said. "Being in a semifinal, whatever result went before does not matter. It is a new match."
After an uninspiring 90 minutes, David Silva hit a shot just wide for Spain in extra time and Di Natale had a header tipped over the bar by Casillas. Italy brought on Alessandro Del Piero in the 108th, but its continued caution suggested this was more for the shootout than for his ability to conjure a winning goal.
In the end, Del Piero didn't even get to take a kick.
"You have to feel ready to score a penalty," Italy coach Roberto Donadoni said. "Some of the players tell me they would rather not go first. I do not decide who takes kicks. I do not force them."
With key midfielders Andrea Pirlo and Gennaro Gattuso suspended, Italy seemed mostly content to try and stifle a Spain team that had shown some of the best attacking football in the group stages.
"We're very bitter, but we still have a lot of pride," Gattuso said. "Losing on penalties happens. We won the World Cup on penalties."
Spain's best opportunity from open play had come in the 81st when Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon spilled a fierce long-range shot by Marcos Senna. The ball squirmed out of his hands and rolled back to hit the post before landing softly back in his arms.
And the first half had been so poor that both sets of fans jeered the teams off the field for the interval, with the most noise the heavily outnumbered Italians made coming when Antonio Cassano took a 40th-minute corner right in front of them.
The move that led to that chance was arguably the brightest spot in a stultifying first half. David Villa set up Silva with a back-heeled return pass so audacious that even retired France great Zinedine Zidane, who was watching from the stands, nodded in approval.
Silva twice had 25-meter (yard) shots saved by Buffon low to his left and the Spanish, who had flourished in the first round with eight goals in three first-round matches, seemed to get frustrated.
Silva was lucky not to get a yellow card in the 42nd when he threw himself over the outstretched leg of Fabio Grosso on the edge of the area. Silva writhed about on the grass until play was halted, at which point referee Herbert Fandel marched half the length of the field to order him to his feet.
Italy almost took the lead in the 61st after Luca Toni hooked the ball away from Casillas just as he was about to grab it. Mauro Camoranesi, who been on the field just three minutes, shot from in front of goal only for the recovering Casillas to block with his legs.
Giorgio Chiellini, who has only been starting in Italy's defense because he injured captain Fabio Canavarro in training before the tournament, had a stellar match throughout and blocked an effort by Dani Guiza at the start of extra time.
Silva put the rebound just wide before, at the other end, Di Natale went close with his fierce header from a right-wing cross. Buffon then blocked a low shot by Villa, the last meaningful effort of the match.
Buffon then saved Spain's fourth penalty kick from Guiza, but Villa, Santi Cazorla, Senna scored to send Spain through. Only Grosso and Camoranesi managed to convert their penalties for Italy.
Germany will face Turkey on Wednesday in Basel, Switzerland, in the other semifinal match.
"I am proud of them, what they have done and the football they were able to produce," Donadoni said of his players. "But if you want to talk about quarterfinals, or semifinals or concrete results, that's a completely different idea."