Gamecast: ESP vs ITA
|Final||Sun, Jul 01 2012|
Spain became the first European team to ever win three back-to-back international tournaments as they defended the European Championship with a comfortable 4-0 win over Italy thanks to goals from David Silva, Jordi Alba, Fernando Torres and Juan Mata in Kiev.
#INSERT type:sidebar title:Match Summary bulleted_text:Man of the Match: Xavi. A magnificent assist for Spain's second-goal took all the confidence out of the Italian side. The Barcelona maestro added another glorious assist for the third goal and dominated the midfield throughout. Iniesta alongside him was also at his radiant best, but in what could be his final international tournament match, Xavi was the central figure. Interestingly, he also did an important pressing job on Italy's key player, Andrea Pirlo.~Spain verdict: Spain were at their imperious best in this final, following a tournament in which they have faced increasing criticism for their style of play. In the knockout rounds they may have been ponderous, but against Italy they were incisive, vibrant and full of invention. Having come under pressure midway through the first-half, they rode the storm and at the first opportunity cut through their opponents to stretch their league. A complete display.~Italy verdict: Italy did well to get to the final of Euro 2012, including a fine victory over Germany, but they were defensively at sea in the face of Spain's passing game. Able to compete manfully in midfield, the possession statistics are kinder on Italy than to most of Spain's opponents, but the strikeforce was not supplied with the ammunition needed to trouble the reigning champions. Questions will be asked as to whether they approached the game with the right tactical set-up.~Could do better: Cesare Prandelli. Having nullified Spain in the tournament's opening game, Prandelli opted not to revert to the 3-5-2 that served them so well in that encounter. Chiellini was kept at left-back from the semi-final and struggled from the start, before being withdrawn through injury. Prandelli was unlucky and could not have predicted Thiago Motta would also leave the pitch with a hamstring problem, but the decision to bring on a defensive midfielder when in search of a goal was questionable.~Stat Attack: Iker Casillas kept his ninth European Championship clean sheet - equalling Edwin van der Sar's record. nonbulleted_text: END#
The game was effectively over at half-time after Spain cut through their opponents with two incisive passes. First it was Andres Iniesta who found Cesc Fabregas to cross for Silva to head home; then it was Xavi whose fine through-ball reached left-back Jordi Alba to calmly slot home.
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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 Kiev.
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 "betraying 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 €14 million 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.