7/01/2012

Majestic Spain take their place among elite

KIEV - Imperious Spain took their place among the game's greats in vintage style by thrashing Italy 4-0 to become the first team to win successive European Championship titles on Sunday.

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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.

Goals from David Silva, Jordi Alba, Fernando Torres and Juan Mata gave the world champions an easy victory over an Italian team down to 10 men through injury for the last half-hour.

The diminutive Silva scored with a rare header after a Cesc Fabregas pull-back in the 14th minute before a superb sprint finish from left-back Alba following a pinpoint Xavi pass doubled their lead four minutes before halftime.

Torres, who scored the winner in the final when they won the title in 2008, struck their third goal in the 84th minute before setting up fellow substitute Mata to add the final flourish in the 88th. Torres is the first player to score in two Euro finals.

The result is also the highest margin of victory recorded in either a European Championship or World Cup final.

"My team mates made history before and now I am doing so together with them in my first European Championship," said Spain's fullback Alba. "I am struggling to believe it but it seems to be sinking in little by little.

"I told my friends and family I was gong to score tonight and that's the way it turned out."

Stylish Spain

Italy had more possession than Spain in the opening half but when they did have a sniff of goal goalkeeper Iker Casillas maintained his astonishing record of not conceding a goal in the knockout stage of a tournament for the 10th successive match.

Spain have become the first European side to win three major tournaments following their success in Euro 2008 and the World Cup two years ago.

The only other team to win three successive major titles was Argentina who lifted the Copa America in 1945, 1946 and 1947 when that tournament was held annually.

Spain, who started without a recognised striker, were all artistry and guile in midfield while Italy, whose own creator Andrea Pirlo failed to shine, were handicapped by having only 10 men from the hour mark after using up all three substitutes.

The third of them, Thiago Motta, only lasted four minutes after replacing Riccardo Montolivo in the 57th before limping off with a hamstring injury.

Italy went close twice through second half substitute Antonio Di Natale but Mario Balotelli, the two-goal hero of their 2-1 semi-final win over Germany, rarely looked like scoring.

The opening goal came when Andres Iniesta split the Italy defence with an incisive pass to Fabregas who outpaced Giorgio Chiellini to get to the byline where he pulled the ball back to Silva who flashed his header past the helpless Buffon.

The second came when Alba tore past the static Leonardo Bonucci and planted a perfect left foot shot past Gianluigi Buffon. Torres then ran through to score the third after another Xavi through ball before setting up Mata with a deft flick.


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Spain's national soccer players celebrate with the trophy after defeating Italy to win the Euro 2012 final at the Olympic stadium in Kiev, July 1, 2012.

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Spain's Juan Mata (L) celebrates his goal goal against Italy during their Euro 2012 final soccer match at the Olympic Stadium in Kiev, July 1, 2012.

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Fabregas was terrific as it turns out, as were the two real architects of this victory: Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta. The two finest players ever to have come out of Spain, they produced three mind- blowingly good passes to create the opportunities for Silva, Alba and Torres, with a delivery every bit as brilliant coming from Sergio  Busquets for the fourth.

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No impact: Balotelli was in devastating form in the semi-final but found the going hard against the Spaniards

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Three and easy: Torres came off the bench to score in a Euro final for the second time

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Icing on the cake: Mata made it four with a couple of minutes left on the clock to complete the rout

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Their statistics speak for themselves. It is now 990 minutes since they last conceded a goal in the knock-out stages of a major competition; the last was at the 2006 World Cup. Here in Eastern Europe Casillas has been beaten just once, in that opening game against Italy.
Such solidity and discipline enabled them to progress to this final when their football was not always at the level Del Bosque would have demanded.


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Prandelli replaced Antonio Cassano with Antonio Di Natale at the start of the second half but Spain should have had a penalty when a header from Ramos was blocked by the hand of Leonardo Bonucci. If the Italians were fortunate then, the luck did not stay with them. Prandelli had already lost Chiellini to injury when Motta was stretchered off with what looked like a hamstring problem.

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Before the game Gianluca Vialli had compared Prandelli to  ‘Galileo’, calling him a ‘visionary’. He has proved himself an excellent manager, making Italy a more attacking side and making a game of this final. But last night even he would have conceded that the visionaries were wearing red.
They are so good in everything they do. Defensively as well as offensively. When Italy had the ball, red shirts would swarm around the man in possession. When Italy threatened, Iker Casillas, Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos were equal to whatever came their way.


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Party time! Casillas lifts the trophy to spark the celebrations for the European champions
Silva’s goal, scored in the 14th minute, was just brilliant though. The ball from Iniesta was exquisite, as was the delivery from Fabregas — it took great skill and pace to burst past Giorgio  Chiellini — and the header from Silva; a marvellous aerial finish from the diminutive Manchester City winger.
Italy did react, with Casillas having to come to Spain’s rescue more than once. But Prandelli’s side were struggling to deal with the speed and fluency of the Spanish, the sight of Pirlo throwing himself into a challenge to deny Iniesta a shot telling its own story.


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Soak it up: Fans of both teams soaked up the atmosphere ahead of kick-off around the ground

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Soak it up: Fans of both teams soaked up the atmosphere ahead of kick-off around the ground 
Mario Balotelli? He ran himself into the ground like every other Italian. The only difference was he threw a tantrum at the end, barging past an Italian official to storm down the tunnel. It wasn’t a big deal but he should have joined his colleagues in congratulating the best team he has had the privilege to play against.
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Fans for coming: The supporters of both teams brought real colour to the proceedings

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It's a dog's life! Balotelli's adoptive family were there to watch him in the stands with a banner

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Spain’s second goal was another stunning exhibition of skill, vision and explosive running. A move that started with Casillas continued when Alba played into Xavi but it was the timing of the run, a run that took Alba beyond four blue shirts, and the timing of the pass from Xavi, not to mention the left-foot finish, that were just fantastic. So fantastic that the expression on Gianluigi Buffon’s face was one of pure amazement.

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Game over: The closing ceremony heralded the final match of the tournament and marks four years until he next event in France

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A comeback was always unlikely but that ended any hope Italy may have had and defeat turned to humiliation in the end. First came the ball from Xavi that allowed Torres to score his third goal of the tournament with a neat right-foot finish, then a similarly superb delivery from Busquets was controlled by Torres, who presented Mata with an easy goal for his first touch of Euro 2012.

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