Donetsk: Spain on Saturday took a step closer to defending their European title, beating France for the first time in a major competition to secure a semi-final meeting with neighbours Portugal.
Two goals from Xabi Alonso, making his 100th appearance for Spain, took La Roja to the last four in Euro 2012, in a match that Vicente Del Bosque's side showed no signs of losing.
Alonso's first goal -- his 14th at international level -- came after he found himself unmarked at the back post, with Jordi Alba drawing the French defence too far across the line before delivering a deep cross.
The Real Madrid midfielder then made it two from the penalty spot on 90 minutes after Anthony Reveillere bundled over Andres Iniesta.
A Yohan Cabaye freekick on 25 minutes was the closest Laurent Blanc's men came to scoring but Spain captain Iker Casillas was equal to the shot and turned the ball over for a corner from under his bar.
Spain's win ended a run in which they had failed to beat France in major competitions, with memories fresh of Les Bleus' 2-0 win in the final of Euro 1984 and their 3-1 victory in the last 16 of the World Cup in 2006.
The European and world champions now meet Portugal on Wednesday, also in Donetsk, with all eyes on how Spain will deal with Real Madrid's star striker Cristiano Ronaldo, who is coming to the boil with three goals in two games.
The last quarter final of the competition sees England play Italy in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, with the winner going on to meet Germany in the semi-final in Warsaw, Poland, next Thursday.
England are currently on a five-match unbeaten run since Roy Hodgson took over as coach last month, fuelling genuine belief that the Three Lions could reach the semi-finals of a major competition for the first time since Euro 96.
But Italy will be no push-overs. The two sides have played each other 22 times since 1933 and the Azzurri have the better record, with nine wins, six draws and seven defeats.
Their last meeting in the European championships was in 1980, when Italy won 1-0. They also ran out 2-1 winners in the third-place play-off of the 1990 World Cup.
But England captain Steven Gerrard said England were in confident mood and had great team spirit, despite being written off coming into the tournament due to a long list of injures.
"The level of performance of the team and the squad so far in this tournament gives me the confidence and belief," he told a news conference.
"I think in previous tournaments the reason we've gone out is because the level of performance has been under what we're capable of. I think we've got stronger as the tournament's gone on and hopefully that will be the same tomorrow (Sunday) night."
Hodgson, whose side has five key players, including Gerrard, one booking away from a suspension, said there was a growing sense of belief in the camp and the match was finely poised.
In an ironic reversal of traditional stereotypes, Italy come into the game amid praise for their attractive style of play, while England have been lauded for their defensive obduracy.
Italy's veteran midfielder Daniele De Rossi believes England still bear the Italian traits of former coach Fabio Capello while remaining under the influence of former Inter Milan manager Hodgson.
Coach Cesare Prandelli is wary of an England side which he believes has found the "right equilibrium", although he insisted his team has nothing to fear.
"We all know the English character, they never hold anything back but they also have some good creative players," he said.
Story first published on: Sunday, 24 June 2012 01:01 IST