Spain became the first nation ever to win three major competitions in a row topping Italy 4-0 in Kiev to win Euro 2012. The Spaniards saved their best for last, finally raising their game to the impossibly high standard they’ve established these past several years.
This tournament began with the feeling in many quarters that the bloom was somewhat of the rose for la Furia Roja. The young Germany side or maybe the World Cup runner-up Netherlands were hot picks to unseat the champions.
Of course the Netherlands were the biggest disappointment in the tournament, bowing out without earning a single point. Germany played well until Italy sent them home before their expected date in the final with Spain.
As great as Spain were the 4-0 scoreline is somewhat unfair to this Italian team that re-established their reputation after the 2010 World Cup debacle. Spain came flying out of the blocks in the final, likely fed up with critics that were unhappy with the manner of their victories.
Spain’s Manager Del Bosque reverted to the false number nine strategy, starting Cesc Fabregas up top, as Fernando Torres was left out yet again. David Silva, Fabregas, Iniesta, and Xavi were in top form early, although Italy seemed up to the challenge.
When David Silva opened the scoring Italy were powerless to prevent what was a quintisential Spain goal. First Xavi passed to Iniesta, who led Fabregas with a perfectly weighted ball down the wing. Fabregas outraced Italy’s fine defender Chiellini and chipped a perfect cross for Silva. Silva crashed his header past Gigi Buffon and Italy were in trouble.
The television commentator informed that Spain hadn’t lost a match in which they led since a World Cup qualifier in 2006 to Northern Ireland, of all teams. Italy, though must not have been up on the stats because they came right back at their storied opponents.
Cassano drew a foul on Pique, earning a yellow card for the defender. Center back Barzagali raided forward to send a tantalying cross for Balotelli. Iker Casillas couldn’t get a hand to the ball and had to be happy to see Jordi Alba clear the danger.
Italy were flying now and were bringing the game to Spain. A Cassano blast needed a good save from Casillas and Spain were turning the ball over at an alarmingly high rate, for them anyway. With the game being played at a very high level a goal from Italy during this purple patch could have set us up for a true classic.
But the next goal would be Spain’s, and what a goal it was. In the 41st minute the breakout star of Euro 2012, Jordi Alba, passed the ball to Xavi and took off. Alba raced at the Italian defense from his own half, and when Xavi slid a sublime pass into Italy’s penalty box, he was there to meet it. Alba cooly slotted his shot past Buffon, a wonderful capper to a wonderful tournament for Barcelona’s latest jewel.
Faced with an impossible hill to climb that should have been it for Italy. But the Azzuri, who lost Chiellini in the 20th minute fought on.
Antonio Di Natale, who scored the only goal of Euro 2012 against Spain, replaced Cassano to start the second half. The first 15 minutes of the half produced plenty of good soccer and Spain might have had a penalty on a hand ball appeal. Trailing by two Casare Prandelli sent in Thiago Motta for Montolivo, a move that would have huge implications on the match when Motta crumpled to the turf with a hamstring injury.
Italy would have to play the rest of the way a man down, and it would prove to be too much. With the man advantage Spain ran Italy ragged over the last half hour. Substitute Fernando Torres ran at the exhausted Italian’s and scored one goal and set up another for late sub and Chelsea team mate Juan Mata.
Mata entered the match in the 95th minute for his only action of the tournament. Another measure of just how great Spain are. How many teams at this tournament would have built their teams around a talent like Mota?
Now the conversations will begin in earnest. The topic will be, is this Spain side the greatest international team ever? As Mike Meyers used to say on Saturday Night Live,”discuss amongst yourselves.”