Spain made history Sunday when they won their third straight major tournament by beating Italy 4-0 in the final of Euro 2012 in a masterful performance. First-half goals from David Silva and Jordi Alba gave Spain a comfortable lead before Fernando Torres rounded off the result with a superb finish seven minutes from time. Juan Mata completed the rout with a simple finish after 88 minutes.
Italy finished the game with 10 men after Thiago Motta went off injured with Italy having used up all three of their substitutes.
Spain become the first team in the modern era to win three straight major tournaments – Uruguay took the Olympic title – the forerunner of the World Cup – in 1924 and 1928, then added the inaugural World Cup in 1930 – cementing their status as the greatest international team of all time.
In a tournament marked by its record amount of headed goals, it was fitting that the deadlock was broken by a header by perhaps one of the shortest players in the tournament.
Silva opened the scoring with a superb header after an well-worked passage of play. The final phase of play before the goal – surely Spain are the only team that have phases within their own periods of possession – saw Andres Iniesta play a delightful throughball to Cesc Fabregas, who pulled the ball back in the air for Silva to head into the net.
With Giorgio Chiellini horribly exposed by Italy’s lack of width, Fabregas had little trouble getting round the Juventus defender – who is usually a center half – before setting up Silva. Chiellini would soon be removed from the field after sustaining an injury.
The goal was pure Spain. Before then Xavi Hernandez had gone close with a superbly worked one-two Fabregas after Spain had kept possession for the best part of five minutes.
Italy’s early attempts to ruffle the Spaniards failed miserably. Daniel De Rossi, who was otherwise excellent, and Mario Balotelli both went through Spanish players recklessly in the opening minutes. The ploy didn’t affect the Spanish in the least. When you have the ability to keep possession for as long as you want, why would a few rough fouls disrupt your rhythm?
Funnily enough, scoring the first goal emboldened the Italians while the Spanish looked hesitant, uncharacteristically giving the ball away.
Federico Balzaretti’s introduction gave Italy some much-needed width while De Rossi began to impose himself on the midfield areas. Antonio Cassano continued his impressive tournament with two bullet shots at Iker Casillas, who was also put to the test by several dangerous corners in the 10 minutes after Silva’s 15-minute opener.
Italy’s narrow diamond midfield clustered the center of the pitch – not that it made a difference to the way Xavi and Iniesta conducted their business – in the hope of cutting off the supply line to Spain’s nominal forward line. The Italians dared Spain to play the ball wide. Normally this would be a suicidal tactic but it has worked for the Italians against Germany and England, preferring to strangle players in central areas and comfortably head out any crosses into the box. The Spaniards were reluctant to play the ball wide and enter into a heading competition, a skill that few of the Spaniards are masters at.
But by half time, Italy were made to pay for their tactic. A kick out from Casillas was neatly headed by Jordi Alba to the nearby Xavi. The Spanish left back then darted past a defender before receiving an inch perfect pass from Xavi, beating the two remaining defenders for pace and unleashing a unstoppable finish past Gianluigi Buffon.
The opening minutes of the second half saw Italy go close twice before avoiding a surefire penalty after Ignazio Abate handled the ball in the area.
Thiago Motta came on early in the second half as Italy’s third substitution. Sadly his presence would only wrap up the game for the Italians. The naturalized Brazilian went down within minutes of coming on, forcing Italy to play the rest of the game with 10 men, making a near-impossible task impossible.
Italy resigned themselves to the inevitable, holding out until the 83rd minute when Torres latched onto Xavi’s throughball before slotting past Buffon to make the score 3-0. He then turned provider, setting up Mata for an easy goal on 88 minutes.
By Kenny Laurie