Spain retained its European crown with a simple 4-0 victory over Italy by doing what it does best: a deadly combination of dominating possession and tantalising passing. By ANT SIMS
There were no Italian fireworks and no Mario Balotelli magic as Spain retained its European crown with apparent ease; La Roja strangled its opposition and made each chance count, sealing the crushing win in regulation time.
Spain kicked off and immediately took the familiar shape of the tiki-taka team, like a cat who has a mouse by its tail – gently, until its victim is exhausted and surrenders.
Spain kept possession and got close early on after a beautifully strung together spell of over 20 passes, eventually bringing the ball to rest at the feet of Cesc Fabregas, who delivered it to Xavi Hernandez, edging it over the bar with just 10 minutes on the clock.
It didn’t take long before Spain was on the attack yet again, and with some crafty passes and the team’s trademark dominant possession, they were soon in the lead. Andres Iniesta cut through Italy’s defence like a hot knife through butter, gifting the ball to Fabregas – who beat Giorgio Chiellini and crossed to David Silva, allowing him to head the ball into the back of the net from six yards out.
Spain was in the driver’s seat and continued to dominate. Despite Andrea Pirlo slowly muscling his way out of their stranglehold, Italy looked somewhat lost and struggled to catch Spain on the break, only managing a few half-hearted and somewhat desperate attempts on goal.
The Spanish team continued their exquisite tango of possession, and with just a few minutes to go to the break, they struck again. Jordi Alba played the ball inside to Xavi before sprinting at least 40 yards to collect the return pass and fire a perfectly executed strike past Gigi Buffon, opening his international account and doubling the reigning champions' lead.
The first half certainly set the tone, marking the first time there had been two or more first-half goals in a Euro final since 1976, and the action started right from the get-go. Emerging after the break, Italy came within inches of pulling a goal back. As Antonio Di Natale came on for for Antonio Cassano, he had an immediate impact – getting in line for a cross from Ignazio Abate, he floated a header just inches over the net.
But tragedy struck for Italy with 30 minutes left to play, as Thiago Motta was stretchered off with a hamstring injury and the men in blue were forced to play with 10 men, since their substitutes had all been exhausted.
Spain was now firmly in control and they sat back (just a little) and persisted with their delicate passing game, content with frustrating Italy by keeping possession. Fernando Torres made an appearance in the 76th minute, coming on in place of Frabregas as the tantalising to and fro continued.
Torres contributed to the rout, just 10 minutes after stepping onto the field, picking up a silky pass from Xavi and striking the ball smoothly into the back of the net to ram Spain’s dominance further down Italy’s throat.
To ensure the salt was rubbed well into Italy's (by now) gaping wounds, Juan Mata, who was brought on just minutes earlier, made it a record score in all European finals, as his first touch was tucked into the back of the net to drape Italy in humiliation.
The final whistle blew and the stadium erupted as Balotelli stomped off the field while the Spanish team allowed themselves to get swept up in the celebrations and euphoria.
Forget the cat toying with a mouse. The Spain team was a python, swallowing its prey whole, crushing and breaking every single bone in its body as it swallowed. Now, just like a serpent, Spain can curl up, hibernate and relax a little while – at least until the next challenge comes knocking. DM
Photo: Spain's Iker Casillas lifts up the trophy after defeating Italy to win the Euro 2012 final soccer match at the Olympic stadium in Kiev, July 1, 2012. (REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach)