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Triumph on penalties

Martinez joins Brazilians in Maracana final

Javi Martinez filled an unusual role for Spain in the blazing heat of Fortaleza on Thursday night as the world and European champions edged into the Confederations Cup final on penalties. “I now have the chance of winning a fourth trophy against Luiz [Gustavo] and Dante," said the Bayern midfielder with a broad grin after the Spaniards’ fortunate victory against Italy in a hard-fought semi-final.

The World Cup holders struggled at times in 120 goalless minutes against the resilient Italians before winning 7–6 in the shootout. And substitute Martinez made his contribution as an emergency centre forward in extra time before celebrating at the very end. “Playing Brazil in a final at the Maracana is a dream," the makeshift striker declared.

Relief for Javi and Spain

The Bayern man was not only elated but also relieved when Jesus Navas made no mistake with the winning spot kick after Italy's Leonardo Bonucci missed the 13th penalty of the shootout. “I'd have been up next," revealed Martinez, “my pulse was already racing, because penalty shootouts are a lottery."

However, the best national team in the world boast nothing if not the unbending desire to win and nerves of steel. On their way to winning the EURO in 2008, they also beat Italy on penalties in the quarter-finals. The Spaniards triumphed at the 2010 World Cup with an extra-time goal against the Netherlands in the final, and in retaining the European championship last summer, they again won the semi-final against Portugal in a shootout.

Only two days to recover

The world champions now have only two days to recharge their batteries before facing Brazil in Sunday's final in Rio de Janeiro. However, the high-calibre opposition and the legendary location should banish any tiredness despite the fierce heat, said Spain coach Vicente del Bosque: “We get to play Brazil at the Maracana, so the players should be as happy as little kids. We want to put on a good show."

In the clash with Italy, who narrowly failed to take revenge for a 4-0 defeat to the Spanish in last summer's EURO final, Del Bosque sprang a surprise by sending on Martinez as a centre forward. “I needed a physically strong player," the coach explained.

A first for Javi

“We wanted more control over Pirlo and De Rossi," said the Munich man, “but I've never played centre forward before." Despite that, he did a very creditable job and was even involved in a couple of dangerous attacks in a seesaw period of extra time, during which both Emanuele Giaccherini and Xavi hit the post.

With many Spain regulars showing signs of tiredness, and faced with Brazil's potent attack spearheaded by Neymar, Martinez is eyeing a start in the final, although it would be in midfield. “I'm up for it," he said, “as a boy, I dreamed of playing at the Maracana one day." Either the former Bilbao man or Bayern team-mates Gustavo and Dante will finish with four winner’s medals for the season. And Sunday's final will undoubtedly be watched by most of his Munich colleagues, and of course new boss Pep Guardiola.