Spain trounces Italy 4-0 in Euro 2012 final
Published Sunday, July 1, 2012 6:36AM EDT
Last Updated Sunday, July 1, 2012 10:14PM EDT
KIEV, Ukraine -- Spain swept to a majestic 4-0 victory over Italy in the European Championship final on Sunday, retaining its title and extending its reign as the best team in world football.
After critics had called this Spain team boring at Euro 2012, the most one-sided final in the tournament's history was a perfect response.
Helped by the fact that Italy was reduced to 10 men in the 64th minute, while trailing by two goals, the victory earned Spain a record third straight major title after Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup. The hat trick of titles is an unprecedented feat for a European team, as is successfully defending the championship.
"To win three titles is almost impossible. Congratulations to the players," said Spain coach Vicente del Bosque, who followed Luis Aragones as coach after Euro 2008.
Goals from David Silva and Jordi Alba in the first half gave Spain a convincing lead at the Olympic Stadium. Fernando Torres and fellow substitute Juan Mata scored in the last six minutes to turn victory into a rout.
When the final whistle was blown, Spain's players rushed to each other and huddled in a circle, jumping and spinning in celebration.
There were more hugs later in the dressing room, this time with Crown Prince Felipe of Spain.
Italy's task had been tough enough with 11 players, and it became impossible with just 10. All its substitutes had been used when midfielder Thiago Motta, who had only been on the pitch for seven minutes, was taken off due to injury.
"We respect (Italy) very much. They were a great rival, but we took control of the game as time went by," Del Bosque said.
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli said Spain's players were "fresher physically" than his team, which played its semifinal on Thursday and had one less day to recover. He also pointed to the loss of Motta as a turning point.
"Once we were down to 10 men there wasn't much we could do," Prandelli said. "We attempted to get back in the match at the start of the second half, but then when we lost Thiago Motta the match was finished."
But he added: "This was a great European Championship for us. Really the only regret is that we didn't have a few extra days to recuperate."
Spain allowed Italy the majority of first-half possession, yet its trademark quick passing game was lethal when required -- as was the finishing in front of goal. The second half was almost entirely one-way traffic.
When called into action, Spain goalkeeper and captain Iker Casillas was outstanding in keeping Italy's attack at bay.
"These years have been the best of my life," said Casillas, who recorded his 10th consecutive clean sheet in tournament knockout matches. "I hope it can be matched in the future but it will be hard."
Critics of Spain's style said the world and European champions had become tedious -- keeping possession with endless back-and-forth passes to stifle games, not to win them.
But Spain answered by playing its best and slickest football at Euro 2012 when most was at stake.
Along with some sublime football, it also delivered the most comprehensive victory in a European Championship final, beating West Germany's 3-0 win over the Soviet Union in 1972.
"We won being true to our playing style, and by moving the ball the we way we moved it we knew how to take charge of the match," Casillas said. "What we do is difficult but we make it look easy."
Playmaker Xavi Hernandez echoed that view.
"The bar was very high, but they are nice challenges" he said. "It was more difficult when people didn't believe in us."
Xavi's Italian counterpart, Andrea Pirlo, failed to orchestrate play as he had done when Germany and England were eliminated from the knockout stages. He looked up with teary red eyes as Spain lifted the trophy.
Yet Spain's victory was fully deserved.
Sergio Ramos and Xavi had already threatened Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon's goal when Spain took the lead in the 14th minute.
Andres Iniesta's incisive forward pass to find Cesc Fabregas was superb. Fabregas drifted behind defender Giorgio Chiellini and surged to the byline, drawing Buffon to his near post. Silva waited eight yards (meters) out to head a crisp chip back from Fabregas into the net.
Spain then increased its lead just four minutes before the break, in a move started by Xavi who had been below his usual high standard at Euro 2012.
"I was lacking that deep, incisive pass, and today I had two," said the Barcelona midfielder, who put a weighted pass into Alba's stride as the left-back burst past four Italian defenders to slip his shot past Buffon.
The great Italian 'keeper also witnessed a master class from his friend and opposite number Casillas, who was on a winning Spanish side for the 100th time.
Casillas has not conceded a goal in a knockout match since Zinedine Zidane scored for France in a 3-1 win, which knocked Spain out of the 2006 World Cup in the second round. At 1-0, Casillas twice stretched to tip crossed balls to safety, as Daniele De Rossi and then Mario Balotelli seemed poised to head goalwards.
Casillas also twice went low to save shots from Antonio Cassano before Alba's goal put Spain into its comfort zone.
Cassano was replaced at halftime by Antonio Di Natale, who has scored the only goal Spain conceded at Euro 2012 -- a 1-1 draw to open its Group C campaign in Gdansk, Poland.
Di Natale quickly unsettled Spain, heading just over before forcing Casillas into a double save when released into space by Pirlo's clever pass.
However, Motta lasted just a few minutes before he appeared to pull his right hamstring and left in obvious pain.
Spain cruised through the second half, to cries of "Ole" from its fans, before inflicting further agony on Italy.
Xavi found Torres to slide his shot past Buffon and inside the far post in the 84th minute. Minutes later, Juan Mata came off the bench like Torres, and took his Chelsea teammate's pass to score into an Italian goal left unguarded by Buffon yet again. It was his first shot of the tournament, and Spain's final goal.
"Tonight, there was no contest, they were too superior -- so the bitterness at losing this final is only relative," Buffon said.