Spain's Cesc Fabregas celebrates with goalkeeper Iker Casillas after scoring the winning penalty against Portugal.

Madrid – Relief, rather than delight, was the prevailing feeling in Spain on Thursday as a result of the national team's penalty shootout defeat of neighbours Portugal in the semi-finals of Euro 2012.

Celebrations broke out across Spain as soon as Cesc Fabregas converted the winning penalty to make it 4-2 for the reigning world and European champions.

More than 20 million Spaniards followed the dramatic penalty shootout in Donetesk, Ukraine, with a television audience share of more than 80 per cent.

There were noisy street celebrations in every Spanish town, but animated more with a sense of relief - at having pushed aside the belligerent Portuguese - that with delight and euphoria.

“What a relief!” was one of the comments made on Radio Marca early on Thursday. “That was a really difficult game, one which could have ended very badly for us.”

There was a consensus in the Spanish media that La Roja narrowly deserved to reach their third straight final of a major tournament because they had been livelier and more ambitious than Portugal in extra-time - but that Vicente del Bosque's side had not played well.

According to Madrid sports daily AS: “The game was not very good. We were not better than Portugal but neither were we worse. We hardly had a shot, we were very cautious – but no more than Portugal.”

AS claimed that “the decisive moment” was the impudent penalty put away by defender Sergio Ramos, who showed “massive courage to step forward” after missing in a Champions League shootout between Real Madrid and Bayern Munich.

Meanwhile, the hero for Marca was goalkeeper Iker Casillas. “This is the third time he has saved us in a shootout”, referring to the captain's penalty saves in 2008 against Italy and in 2002 against Ireland.

For Catalan papers Sport and Mundo Deportivo, the real hero was Fabregas, one of the many Barcelona players for La Roja. The Catalan media were also full of praise for left-back Jordi Alba, who is poised to join Barca from Valencia.

Predictably, the Catalan media were full of scorn and ridicule for Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo, who is usually Public Enemy Number One in Catalonia because of his goals for Real Madrid.

Catalan language radio station RAC1 scoffed at Ronaldo for “planning to steal the glory by taking Portugal's fifth penalty” – by which time the shootout was already finished.

Another theme taken up by the Spanish media, the same as after the triumphs of 2010 and 2008, was that of football success helping the Spanish people put aside their concerns over the economy.

“Reaching another final is just what we needed,” commented Cadena COPE, “given all our other problems.”

Meanwhile, El Pais reminded its readers that La Roja will “go down in history as the most successful national team ever” if it manages to win the final on Sunday, after triumphing at the 2010 World Cup and at Euro 2008. – Sapa-dpa