Spanish masterclass destroys Italy
Spain rewrote the history books to claim their second successive European Championship with a sublime performance that further strengthened their claim to be the best international side ever. Two goals in each half were sufficient for Spain, who simply stroked the ball around a hard working Italian side who, at times, appeared to be chasing shadows. On this occasion, the Azzurri were a pale imitation of the outfit that played so well in the group game between the two sides and didn’t even look like gaining any kind of foothold in the match. Quite simply, Spain were ruthless and passed the Italians off the park. On this evidence, those commentators who, ahead of the final, scornfully derided the Spanish as boring should now be hanging theirs heads in shame. That also includes you, Arsene Wenger!
Cesc Fabregas, hero of the shootout win over Portugal, was restored to the team as Vicente Del Bosque dispensed with his failed experiment of fielding a recognised target man. Following his side’s expert demolition of a more than useful Germany in their semi-final, Italian coach Cesare Prandelli had every right to go into this game in a hopeful mood. That confidence evaporated within fifteen minutes of Portuguese referee Pedro Proenca whistling to start proceedings – all the time it took for David Silva to head La Roja in front. From early on in the encounter, it looked like it would be a difficult night for Italy; long periods of Spanish possession meant key man Andrea Pirlo saw very little of the ball, choking the supply line to Cassano and Balotelli up front. It wasn’t all one-way traffic though, a couple of smart Iker Casillas saves twice denied Cassano as Italy gamely tried to fight back.
Four minutes before the interval, Spain doubled their lead, and the only surprise was the time the goal took in coming. An inch perfect Xavi pass was met by the marauding figure of Jordi Alba, who finished in style from close range. Italy now had a mountain to climb and trooped off for their half-time oranges fearing for their lives. To their enormous credit, they refused to buckle and forced the Spanish captain into another brilliant save, this time from Antonio Di Natale, on in place of the withdrawn Cassano. Forced into an early change by a first half injury to defender Giorgio Chiellini, worse was to follow for the luckless Italians, who, having used all three of their permitted substitutes, were dealt a further blow when the third of them, Thiago Motta, limped off moments after arriving with half an hour still to play.
Top class international football is difficult enough at the best of times – for Italy, forced to compete against the belligerent world champions a man down, the task had just become nigh on impossible. With a comfortable two-nil lead and a little more breathing space than hitherto, Del Bosque pulled off the irrepressible Cesc Fabregas, a player who has done as much as any Spaniard at the tournament in the defence of their title. His replacement, Chelsea’s Fernando Torres, was soon in the thick of the action and stroked home the third Spanish goal following a delightful Xavi through ball which split the Italian defence. Not content with that, scorer turned provider shortly after, when Torres collected a Busquets pass just inside the Italian area before squaring for Juan Mata who applied a deft touch to close out the scoring.
In the end, Spain retained their championship at a canter, with the largest winning margin the Championship final has ever seen being just one of the accolades sent their way. Italy are a fine football team, that much was clear from the manner of their triumph as underdogs in the previous round; a four-nil thumping, though, is perhaps a tad harsh because they more than played their part in an enthralling final. At two goals down, they were still in the game and were only finally killed off when short handed and fatigued. Now, the talk turns to Brazil and the 2014 World Cup in two years time – what are the odds on Iker Casillas hoisting aloft that trophy for a second time? One thing is for sure, it is going to take one hell of a team to knock the men from Madrid from their lofty perch.