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Spain one step from history against Italy

Spain is just 90 minutes from history.

Or 120 minutes, and possibly even penalty kicks.

Spain, the Euro 2008 and 2010 World Cup winners, have advanced to the final of a major tournament for the third straight time - matching a memorable run from 1972-76 for West Germany.

West Germany won Euro 1972, the 1974 World Cup and was second in Euro 1976.

Spain will hope to finish off the unprecedented international treble Sunday at Olympic Stadium.

Four-time World Cup champions Italy, the last team other than Spain to capture a major title, is the last obstacle.

Unequaled for the last six years on the international level, Spain has been as impressive as ever this summer in Poland and Ukraine. Although the results are not jaw-dropping, the fact remains Spain just continues to win.

With a victory over Italy, which won its lone Euro title in 1968, Spain would put itself in a category of its own.

"We've already made history with the two consecutive trophies we've won, but, of course," Spain midfielder Cesc Fabregas said, "we want a little bit more and came here with that as our objective."

Fabregas scored the winning penalty in a semifinal shootout win over Portugal, as his attempt skipped off the left post and sneaked across the line. Just one kick earlier, Portugal hit the bar and the ball bounced out.

That is the slim line squads walk in major events, and one Spain has navigated with the expertise of a tight-rope walker.

Coach Vicente del Bosque has defied logic in Euros, fielding a lineup without a striker on numerous occasions. With a midfield featuring the talented Xavi, Andres Iniesta and others, it has worked well.

But Spain knows all too well, it still has work to do against Italy.

"It's going to be a very tight, very competitive final," Fabregas said, "and the winner will have proved themselves the best team in this tournament."

Italy, which won the 2006 World Cup, tied Spain in the first match of Euros in Group C play, 1-1. The Italians led the match, but Fabregas scored to answer a Antonio Di Natale strike to leave it at 1-1 after 90 minutes.

It could take longer to separate the two teams in the second meeting.

Orchestrated by Andrea Pirlo, a member of the 2006 World Cup team, the Azzurri have made a shocking run to the final. In the dark clouds of a betting scandal again, the Italians have thrived.

Italy won the 1982 and 2006 World Cups on the heels of betting scandal, and it was a distraction again leading into Euros. But the Italians have brushed off the problems, and shown no fear.

And that's exactly what coach Cesare Prandelli believed his team could not do against Spain: "Fear them."

"We mustn't fear them," Prandelli said. "We are here on merit and we will give it everything."

Italy rode two goals from Mario Balotelli to a 2-1 victory over Germany in the semifinals Thursday, and will be ready on short rest.

"I'm hoping to prepare the team well even if we only have one day to do it," Prandelli said. "Just as we did with Germany, we need to try to find their weak points and work on them.

"We have no time to celebrate, just concentrate on the next game which is the biggest. When you dream, you only dream big."