Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Euro 2012 final: Spain re-write the history books with win over Italy

Spain's players celebrate with the trophy after the Euro 2012 soccer championship final between Spain and Italy in Kiev
Spain's Fernando Torres holds up the trophy at the end of during the Euro 2012 soccer championship final between Spain and Italy in Kiev, Ukraine, Sunday, July 1, 2012. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
DONETSK, UKRAINE - JUNE 19: A Ukraine fan enjoys the atmopshere during the UEFA EURO 2012 group D match between England and Ukraine at Donbass Arena on June 19, 2012 in Donetsk, Ukraine. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

Spain 4 Italy 0: Spain trampled all over those boring jibes and marched straight into the history books with a magnificent Euro 2012 final victory over Italy in Kiev.

First-half goals from David Silva and Jordi Alba and late efforts from substitutes Fernando Torres and Juan Mata confirmed La Roja as the first team to record three successive major tournament victories, including a World Cup, with the biggest ever win in a European Championship final.

And they did it with the most awesome display of passing power, which made a mockery of all those who had questioned them beforehand.

It was all too much for Mario Balotelli, who marched straight down the tunnel at the end and angrily shrugged away efforts from Italian officials to get him to stay, before returning for the presentation ceremony.

Yet the thing was, Italy were not disgraced and would have held out hopes of a comeback until Cesare Prandelli's final replacement Thiago Motta was stretchered off within four minutes of his arrival, leaving his team-mates to battle through the final half hour with 10 men.

Ultimately though, Spain's display was a fitting end to the best European Championships in almost three decades.

Four players in particular, Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Andres Iniesta and Xavi deserve a special mention after starting all three finals, in Vienna, Johannesburg and now Ukraine.

But, as 'Ole' rang around this magnificent stadium, it was a night to glory in tiki-taka - and the players who put it into practice.

Throughout the tournament, the argument for Spain being a dour outfit had been building.

It dominated the pre-match press conferences and was fuelled still further by Arsene Wenger, who accused the world champions of "betrayed their philosophy" by turning their tiki-taka style into a negative.

After 15 minutes of the most majestic football imaginable, the greatest noise was the sound of all those words being rammed jubilantly down throats.

Coach Vicente del Bosque refused to bow to the demand for a regular centre-forward to be included in his starting line-up and was rewarded with a start the quality of which was on a par with anything this group of players has ever produced.

Ramos had a couple of early efforts, so too Xavi. Andres Iniesta also had a shot blocked before Spain cut their opponents' defence to shreds.

The move was astounding in its simplicity.

Alvaro Arbeloa started it, Xavi was also involved before Iniesta split the Italy defence with a pass Cesc Fabregas was able to cut-back from the by-line.

And who should be there to head home? None other than little David Silva, who had got free at the near post and flicked the ball into the far.

By half-time, Spain had another. Again five passes were involved. This time it went back to front. Iker Casillas, Fabregas and then Alba, who fed Xavi and kept motoring.

What unfolded can only make Barcelona thankful they had agreed to pay Valencia £13million for the full-back before the tournament started. His price would have gone up significantly otherwise.

Xavi has played that straight through ball thousands of times in his illustrious career. The pace on it was perfect. Alba, beyond Italy's back-line, steadied himself before sliding a shot calmly past Gianluigi Buffon.

Under normal circumstances, the half-time statistics would have underlined Spain's superiority.

In fact, they showed Italy had played more passes and secured 53% possession, almost unheard of against this Spain team.

With Casillas not enjoying his most secure evening, the Azzurri would have expected to create something meaningful.

But the bounce of the ball would not go their way.

Casillas got in the way of a thunderous effort from Antonio Cassano and Balotelli fired over.

No-one could accuse Prandelli of lacking guts. Within 11 minutes of the re-start he had used all his substitutes and seen one of them Antonio di Natale bring a decent save out of Casillas after collecting Riccardo Montolivo's pass inside the area.

Unfortunately for Italy, the last replacement, Motta was only on the field for four minutes before he pulled a hamstring and had to be stretchered off.

It was dreadful luck for the Azzurri, who now knew their task was a hopeless one.

All that was left was to stave off humiliation.

Even that was beyond them as substitutes Torres and Mata struck in the final minutes.

Italy didn't deserve that.

Their first competitive defeat to Spain - penalties excepted - since the 1920 Olympics.

Spain, record breakers twice over, now unbeaten in this competition for 29 games, a run that stretches back to June 2004.

History makers. How boring.

European Championship Winners

1960 - USSR

1964 - Spain

1968 - Italy

1972 - West Germany

1976 - Czechoslovakia

1980 - West Germany

1984 - France

1988 - Holland

1992 - Denmark

1996 - Germany

2000 - France

2004 - Greece

2008 - Spain

2012 - Spain

Treble chasers

Spain - the Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010 champions - last night became the first team in history to win three major international tournaments in a row, including a World Cup, following their 4-0 victory over Italy in the final of Euro 2012.

Here, we look at other sides that have tried and failed to complete such a feat.

WEST GERMANY (1976 European Championship)

The Germans went into the Euros in Yugoslavia as defending champions and having also won the 1974 World Cup, staged in their own country. For a third successive time they made a final, taking on Czechoslovakia, but after falling 2-0 behind early on and then pulling two goals back to take the game to penalties, they were undone in the shoot-out. They went down 5-3 as Antonin Panenka produced a nerveless chip to win it for the Czechs and set the template for Andrea Pirlo and Sergio Ramos to follow.

ARGENTINA (1994 World Cup)

Argentina had a hat-trick in their sights at the World Cup in the United States having won the 1991 and 1993 Copa America titles, but after suffering the blow of Diego Maradona being sent home for failing a drugs test, the South Americans - having only finished third in their group - were eliminated in the round of 16 with a 3-2 defeat to Romania.

FRANCE (2002 World Cup)

After savouring the glory of winning the 1998 World Cup on home turf and then following it up with the Euro 2000 title, Les Bleus came crashing back down to earth at the tournament in Japan and South Korea, finishing bottom of their group having suffered defeats to Senegal and Denmark either side of a goalless draw with Uruguay.

BRAZIL (2006 World Cup)

It was Brazil who eventually won the World Cup in the Far East and two years later they added a Copa America title, but their hopes of a treble were then dashed in Germany as they cruised to the quarter-finals, only to be beaten 1-0 by the French in the last eight thanks to a goal from Thierry Henry.

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