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SAINT-DENIS, France – Spain's era of dominance at the European Championship came to an end Monday when Italy beat the two-time defending champion 2-0 in the round of 16.
Italy deserved its victory and was impressive from the start at Stade de France, stifling Spain's attacking intent and creating several scoring opportunities with slick interplay.
The goals — one in either half — were enough for Italy to avoid its third straight elimination at the European Championship to Spain and secure a quarterfinal clash against another old foe, Germany.
Giorgio Chiellini, a member of Italy's resilient defense, put his team ahead in the 33rd minute, when he poked the ball across the line after Spain goalkeeper David de Gea couldn't hold on to a free kick by Eder.
In the second half, Spain showed more menace and came close to equalizing on a couple of occasions, not least when Sergio Ramos' close-range header in the 76th minute was kept out by veteran Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.
Buffon also made another impressive save in the 90th minute when he managed to get down and save Gerard Pique's close-range strike.
As Spain swept forward in search of the elusive equalizer, Italy counterattacked to put the match beyond doubt. Graziano Pelle sealed the victory — Italy's first competitive triumph over Spain since the 1994 World Cup — with his second goal of the tournament after a cross by Matteo Darmian in second-half injury time.
It was Italy's first win over La Roja at the European Championship since it was defeated comprehensively by the Spaniards 4-0 in the 2012 final. The Italians had also been eliminated by Spain in a penalty shootout in the quarterfinals at Euro 2008.
The result spells the end of Spain's dominance in European football following its victories in 2008 and 2012. Two years ago, defending its 2010 World Cup, Spain was dumped out of the World Cup in Brazil at the group stage.
"We have to accept the disappointment. They were more efficient in the decisive moments," Spain midfielder Andres Iniesta said. "In the second half we played more like ourselves but we paid the price of also having to be careful on defense."
Italy arrived in France written off by critics back but it's now in the hunt to win its first European Championship since 1968. Italy will play Germany in Bordeaux on Saturday in a rematch of the 2012 semifinal, which it won by 2-1.
Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/tales-azzoni