Dazzling champions have final word
Spain 4 Italy 0:Rumours of Spain’s demise have been greatly exaggerated and Italy have the scars to prove it after being given pummeled by Vicente Del Bosque’s record-breaking side in Kiev tonight. Four goals, two in each half, brought about a successful defence of their European title and a third straight tournament win.
For much of it, they played without striker, yet Fernando Torres came on to score a third against a beleaguered Italian side and claim the tournament's Golden Boot.
He then set up the fourth for Juan Mata, who played little over five minutes after being introduced for the first time. This came after the diminutive David Silva headed them into a first half lead and Jordi Alba tore up the left flank to double their tally with his first international goal.
Italy will bemoan an injury to Thiago Motta that left them with 10 men for much of the second half, but they were two down at that stage and any comeback was going to require something special that hadn’t quite been evident in play until then. Andrea Pirlo, their conductor for the last five games, lost his baton, or was robbed of it by incessant Spanish pressure that prevented him from getting his head up and picking out a team-mate.
Italy threatened, no doubt, from setpieces, from long range and from more dangerous positions when Antonio Di Natale replaced Antonio Cassano at the break, but you need to be clinical against Spain and Italy were not that, primarily because goalkeeper Iker Casillas, like his outfield team-mates, remains so consistently brilliant.
Cesare Prandelli's side had plenty of possession, a rare feat against Spain, but tonight's Spain was taking risks, pushing on, proving a point and they had Italy scrambling with 11 men on plenty of occasions before the break, with Pirlo's most significant contributions a couple of timely tackles in his own box.
Throughout the tournament, the argument for Spain being a dour outfit had been building. It dominated the pre-match press conferences and was fuelled further by Arsene Wenger claiming the world champions had “betrayed their philosophy” by turning their tiki-taka style into a negative.
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 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 €17 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 per cent possession, almost unheard of against this Spain team.
The Azzurri must have expected to create something meaningful but the bounce of the ball would not go their way.
No-one could accuse Prandelli of lacking guts. Within 11 minutes of the restart he had used all his substitutes and 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, both goals coming after incisive passing from Xavi.
Italy didn’t deserve it, their first competitive defeat to Spain - penalties excepted - since the 1920 Olympics.
Spain, record breakers twice over, are now unbeaten in the competition for 29 games, a run that stretches back to June 2004. How boring.